§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.I have always felt it a privilege to speak in this House. More particularly, having argued, talked, read and thought about politics all my life, I find it slightly strange to be here, as it were, as a licensed performer.
I am especially grateful on this occasion to be here and to speak because through me an honour is conferred on my constituency. The two counties and 11 self-governing burghs that comprise Berwick and East Lothian stretch from the outskirts of Edinburgh to the Scottish Border. I have to try to represent everything in British social life from the ducal fringe along the River Tweed—I have the privilege to have the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) as a constituent—from the great estates to some of the most committed Left-wing mining villages in Scotland.
I must be one of the few Members of this House who, when canvassing, has been told by the butler who answered the door, "My Lord has no politics. I am the Chairman of the Conservative Party, but you may find some support in the kitchen premises." At the other end of my constituency I was equally privileged when, not long ago, I was asked to go to an urgent meeting of party supporters, this at a time when wages were restrained, prices were rising, and rents had just gone up. I was told that they were deeply disturbed about the political situation, but when I arrived there I found that what was exercising them was the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the civil war in Nigeria.
It is both a privilege and a testing task to represent a constituency where not only are the social cleavages still very marked. 9 but politics are still deeply infused with issues of principle. On the more material side, I am glad that the Gracious Speech emphasises the continuance and development of the regional development policy. This has meant very much to my constituency. I am also glad that it emphasises the continuance of aid for the coal industry, because so much has been done to ease and ameliorate the scaling down of this industry—in a better manner than many other countries have managed.
This is very important in an area like mine, which had some of the first pits in Scotland but where no pits exist today. It has happened without undue heart-burning and hardship. Mark you, when the mines were there many years ago this was a source of difficulty too. In fact when the mines were originally established some of the men, women and children who worked underground were bought and sold with the pits. The hardships and difficulties that were experienced in their turn produced very closely knit, compassionate and comradely communities. There were gains as well as losses.
One example of the gains occurred in the 1930s, when there was severe poverty and unemployment and the miners decided to give an annual treat to their children. They clubbed together to provide a gala. To show that the upper classes had nothing that the miners could not rival, they chose the cleverest girl at the local school as queen and devised an elaborate crowning ceremony before the fete began. Now these village galas continue not so much as a demonstration against the power of wealth and privilege but simply as an opportunity to give the children a good time.
I, for my part, feel that progress would be achieved if we had a situation in which we had such abundant sources of energy in this country that no one needed to work underground to provide us with fuel, but at the same time I should like to keep the comradely spirit and compassion that has developed in these mining communities.
Above ground, in the land between the sea and the Lammermuir Hills, we have what has often been called the "garden of Scotland", where the 18th century agricultural improvers first planted tree belts, drained the land, brought in modern methods of crop rotation and thus made a 10 name for themselves as successful scientific pioneering farmers. This reputation they have retained to the present and they will welcome that section in the Gracious Speech which promises a selective expansion of agriculture.
I know that they feel proud that their efforts have saved this country over the last 10 years, £240 million worth a year of foreign exchange due to the increased production of food. They certainly believe that, with extra encouragement, they could go further on these lines.
So, for that matter, could our inshore fishing fleet, which is partly based in my constituency. I have had to spend, voluntarily, queasy days at sea with the fleet and I have been impressed by the fantastic hard work and endurance of our fishermen. I see no reason why here, too, given reasonable encouragement, we could not save the £27 million worth of fresh white fish which we buy annually from foreign fleets.
Indeed, my experience in my constituency reflects very closely in economic matters that of the Government, not only in this matter of import substitution but in the tremendous problem of getting exports. I remember my shock just after I had been elected in 1966 on what was an expansionist programme, to find that my first task was to try to rescue a well-known mill, an ancient firm, which was going under in the face of foreign competition. When the manager showed me around the mill, I was a little surprised to see on one of his largest machines a date stamp showing that it had been bought and installed before the First World War.
Now that firm is struggling back on to its feet with the aid of investment grants and the regional employment premium. My latest call, only three weeks ago, was to a new engineering firm desperate for extra space because its order book for exports was so full that it could not build a new factory quickly enough. Therefore, in a vulnerable area such as my constituency, we understand the importance of a totally expanding economy, of a successful balance of payments and of public expenditure, and the Gracious Speech is quite right to emphasise these things.
But, although the work and the higher wages provided are important, we must also preserve the other amenities of life. 11 Here again, South-East Scotland is lucky in having beautiful harbours, bays and holiday resorts and we have the great good fortune that these have never been the preserve of a minority. If the Prime Minister can spare time during the arduous year ahead, I know that he will be welcome to play golf on one of our famous courses. Our earliest cup open for competition goes back to 1770. We also have yachting competitions which might interest the Leader of the Opposition, although in this case he would have to join the small boat multi-handicap class.
I appreciate that all our sports in the constituency have not been so democratic. I recall that my predecessor, Lord Kilmany, then Sir William Anstruther Gray and a widely respected man, overdid it a little, I thought, when he was elected. He said that he did not know the constituency well, but that he intended to hunt across it and thus get to meet everyone.
Besides our efforts to bring in industry and employment, besides our efforts for recreation, we need careful planning to see that these are safeguarded. We need the money that is to be put into tourism and the thought, effort and planning needed to make recreation as satisfactory in this country as we are beginning to make the normal opportunities for work.
Similarly, the Gracious Speech is, I think, right to emphasise education. We are lucky that, in Scotland, in the rural areas at any rate, we do not need extensive reorganisation of our secondary education system. It has been built on the principle that the same schools are satisfactory for everybody and there is a combination of excellence and training for excellence with respect for all kinds of aptitudes.
Nevertheless, this has only recently begun to have a real effect in the sense that higher wages and fuller employment have made it possible for many children now to stay on at school to take advantage of these facilities. The flood of talent which is pouring out from our schools, through the sixth forms, and into higher education is impressive by any standards. I only hope that we will not find that there are insufficient places for them when they go into higher education and that, having abolished the 11-plus, or 12 promotion examination, as we called it in Scotland, so successfully, we will not create another barrier at 18-plus.
All these things—reduction of class barriers, improved opportunity to educate our children, to have recreation and holidays, to preserve our countryside, to build on our best traditions—are valuable and I hope that, given proper leadership, they will enable our community to think a little less about its own immediate problems. If we do this, we will be better able to turn our minds occasionally to the welfare of the other two-thirds of the world's population who are not as fortunate as we are.
In a constituency which has exported people all over the globe, where we have provided more than our share of recruits for the Scottish regiments, for the Merchant Navy and for the mission field, we fully appreciate the emphasis in the Gracious Speech on world peace and on the importance of a rising standard of living for all communities. I know that some people have tended to give up hope of progress in these directions, to think that it is too idealistic. They have pointed to rampant racialism, to religious bigotry and to strident nationalism, which have caused so many problems. Some of these forces are entirely destructive, but others can be turned in a healthy direction.
For instance, nationalism is not altogether bad. My constituency contains the site of the last battlefield on which the Scots defeated the English, at Preston-pans, and I have a certain mild form of national pride of my own. But this does not mean that I dislike other tribes, such as the Welsh, that I have any hostile feelings towards foreigners or that I lack pride in being British. It does not mean that I am not eager to join the European Economic Community or that I am not enthusiastic for the development of the United Nations.
Our Government still has considerable influence, and a great deal is expected of us as a Parliament and as a Government. If the policies which we apply, starting at home, from Birmingham to Belfast, from the West Riding to West Africa, operate in a manner which reduces racial tension and religious bigotry, which channels nationalistic forces in healthy ways, we shall have had a very satisfactory influence in the direction of world peace.
13 I am grateful to my party and to my constituency for sending me here. I do not believe that Governments can, in the rather foolish phrase of John Stuart Mill, do everything except turn a man into a woman and vice versa. But I do believe, like Mill—I am in this sense a neo-Victorian—that Governments can influence the tone and atmosphere of a society. At a time when politicians are in some disrepute, when one widely respected Member has chosen to leave this House and there are attempts to drive out other Members, I believe that there is no more worthy object of patriotic ambition than to serve this country in this House of Commons.
I feel that the Measures outlined in the Queen's Speech give all of us a chance to show that these ambitions are not unworthy and that we can create a society which contains comfort but not complacency, compassion for our own poorer citizens but also for people throughout the world.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I beg to second the Motion which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) with such wit and distinction.
I am very sensible of the honour accorded to me and my constituency today, the more so because I am usually among the critics in political life. My experiences in local government and in this House have, I think, taught me something of the art of the possible, but the trouble is that I always feel an irresistible urge to push the possible a little bit nearer to perfection on every issue that arises. And so the House will not expect me to say that the Gracious Speech is perfect in every respect. But it seems to me to be realistic and far-seeing, and it contains many items which are important to my constituents.
When I tell inquirers the name of my constituency they nearly always confuse it with Woodford Green, in Essex. "Yes", they say. "We know it well. It is a delightful spot." But I can see the puzzlement in their eyes as they try to work out what catastrophe can have fallen on the constituency of Winston Churchill to have caused it to return me as its Member of Parliament.
14 Nor is that my only problem, because the constituency covers not only the former Borough of Wood Green, but also some wards of Tottenham, and this sometimes causes my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) to look with what I might call an Irish eye on that part of Tottenham outside his constituency—although I represent not six counties but just two wards of Tottenham.
The part of Tottenham within my constituency contains many of the exciting things, such as the Tottenham Hotspur Football Ground on Saturday afternoon. Perhaps fortuitously, the new Y Division police headquarters have just been erected a short distance away. The constituency includes the former Territorial Army drill hall which is now the scene of a civilian battle between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Social Services and the Haringey Sports Advisory Council and other youth organisations about its future use. The oldest part is round All Hallows Church, adjoining Bruce Castle Museum, which houses a very fine postal collection in commemoration of one of Tottenham's famous citizens, Sir Rowland Hill.
My constituents are the people who help to keep London living and moving. They are postmen, milkmen, dustmen, bakers and an army of transport workers —[Laughter.]—and I refer particularly to those transport workers whom hon. Members will have met when they travel north from King's Cross. They include small shop-keepers, small businessmen, typists, housewives and office workers.
The wage of many of them is well below the national average. To meet higher rents as well as the higher cost of living in London is not a laughing matter. A considerable number are council tenants and one ward of the constituency consists almost entirely of a Greater London Council estate. Of course, I welcome the promise of legislation to continue powers to limit increases in house rents. That is most necessary. In addition, I should also welcome any proposals which the Government may feel able to make to improve the security of council tenants in the possession of their homes against eviction.
Housing is the great problem of my constituency. Since I entered the House 14 years ago, the children of families 15 waiting for rehousing then have become adults, and many of them have married and started families. Many are scarred by never having known a full and happy life, because of the problems of bad housing. I always wish that we could increase the stock of houses to the point at which new families could start off in a decent home at a reasonable rent, or could buy a home at a reasonable price without any deposit, instead of having to wait until families are hopelessly overcrowded before we can do anything to help them.
Wood Green itself was originally a clearing in Tottenham Wood, a part of Enfield Chase, which is reflected in its original name, Tottenham Wood Green. Its chief claim to fame today is as a shopping centre which attracts large numbers of shoppers from a very wide area of North London and Hertfordshire. Wood Green itself has no buildings of architectural or historic importance, but it has Alexandra Palace. The first television transmissions from the Palace are commemorated in the Haringey mayoral badge and the B.B.C.'s news service has only just removed from "Ally Pally" to Lime Grove.
My constituents will miss their television appearances as the men and women in the street, conveniently handy for interviews on current topics by news commentators. We became quite accustomed to seeing our local shops and shopkeepers on the screen when rising prices were in the news and it was always the same local garage owner who was interviewed after the Budget for his comments on petrol tax. Sad to think that the people in the neighbouring streets of Lime Grove will now have their faces on television news instead of ours. However, we now have the great distinction of being the launching pad for the new University of the Air.
Wood Green has always had much of the sense of community and cohesion of a country town. It was a small, but enterprising and energetic independent London borough before its absorption, together with Tottenham and Hornsey, in the London Borough of Haringey. It is because of the effect of this amalgamation upon Wood Green that I note with particular interest the promised implementation of the Maud Report. While 16 I can speak only from London experience, I believe that London experience in this context is immensely important and should be taken into account when the Maud proposals are under consideration, as, I also hope, will be the very strong representations which have been made by all the local government authority associations and national housing, planning and other bodies.
In particular, I should like to see some way of giving a measure of authority to really small local government units, even within the Maud structure. Unless this can be done, there is a danger that the electors may become more and more remote from local government. I have seen it happen in Wood Green, with London government reorganisation. I believe that machinery for taking into account the wishes and protests of ratepayers is just as important as structural efficiency.
I very much welcome the declaration in the Gracious Speech in regard to further progress on nuclear and non-nuclear arms control and disarmament. I hope that it will be accompanied by a greater study and application of the positive techniques of peace than any country has yet made, because that would be the biggest contribution which this country could make to the coming decade and it could transform the Government's readiness to assist in bringing peace to Nigeria and Vietnam.
The reference to following up with vigour proposals for a complete ban on chemical and biological warfare will be welcomed by a very wide public. The secrecy and the appalling dangers to creation in this kind of research have come too close to all of us in recent years for any complacency. I am glad that the Government have made a positive response to that shock and anger, and I beg them to devote all the drive that is necessary to secure an end to these devilish things. It is perhaps a commentary on civilisation that the nations can act with speed and decision to ban a sweetener which is suspect, but that action to ban the weapons of contamination and mutilation is so difficult to achieve.
But the sentences in the Gracious Speech which give me the greatest pleasure are those which concern the Department of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and 17 Productivity. I am delighted to find myself in full agreement with her proposals for industrial safety and health. We urgently need a comprehensive industrial health service. In particular, there should be a system of regular and effective screening of all workers at risk from industrial cancers not only during their working life, but also after they have left those industries or after they have retired. When so little is known about the causes of most kinds of cancer, the machinery for preventing these industrial cancers should be as good as we can possibly make it, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will include that in her legislation.
And, at last, the sixpence in the pudding—not just a promise of equal pay, but actual legislation. If my right hon. Friend is in any difficulty about preparing this legislation, she might like to take over my anti-discrimination Bill, which would add an anti-discrimination board to proposals for equal pay.
I have never experienced discrimination. Having grown up with a background of the Society of Friends, in which men and women are completely equal, and through my experience in the Co-operative movement, in which women have always played a vital part, I even find it difficult to understand. For hundreds of thousands of women, however, discrimination is still areality in many subtle and devious ways, as well as in lack of promotion and differential wage rates. It is essential, therefore, that equal pay should come quickly, effectively and without strings attached.
The women of Britain are making a contribution to the economy which I do not believe has ever been fully appreciated, from the bright young things in their mini-skirts and maxi-coats, with their great efficiency, to the older women whose families have grown up and who are helping to run the service trades and many industries.
It is scandalous that the average wage of all of them is about half the male rate. But they have developed a new militancy in demanding the rate for the job and they will not be satisfied with less. It is, in part, my right hon. Friend, with her confidence and vigour in office, who has given this new urgency to a demand which has been a ground swell of the women's movement for more than 50 18 years. I am sure that the House will not mind me reminding hon. Members of how much my right hon. Friend is admired by women of all political views. Many of them have taken their cue from her and I am sure that she will not let them down when it comes to legislation.
I have already talked for too long, as the murmers in the House indicate, but before concluding I must point out that we have talked so much for so long about the '70s that it is difficult to realise that the programme which we are considering today will take us into the next decade. A new decade always gives a feeling of new opportunities and opportunity is the keynote of this Gracious Speech—opportunity for the have-nots in under-developed territories, opportunity to the old for a fuller and happier retirement, opportunity to the young to enjoy the full range of education, and opportunity to women at last to become equal citizens.
The true task of Government in the '70s seems to be, first, to create the opportunities and then to maintain the freedom of all our people to use those opportunities according to the needs and the abilities of each.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
The House has been much impressed by the speeches from the mover and seconder of the Address. Their appointments, when announced, gave us much pleasure and we have not been disappointed by their speeches. I warmly congratulate them, as is my privilege, on behalf of the House, on the way in which they carried out their difficult task.
We were charmed by the fluency and modesty of the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), for we know that in addition to her long service in the House, covering some 15 years, she has served in local government with great distinction in the highest places. In addition to the work that she has done here, the hon. Lady has given noble service there. We will listen many times in the future with great respect to her views on, for example, the reform of local government.
The hon. Lady is obviously well acquainted with her constituents and we listened to her account of those whom she represents, including those who keep 19 London moving. I might be permitted the remark that they have chosen a strange way to celebrate this honour.
On the other hand, she has achieved great success in her campaign against certain food additives to which she referred, notably cyclamates, on which the Minister has now taken action. As Alistair Cooke said on Sunday—perhaps it is now wise for one to acknowledge quotations [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]; that is, where the source is known—whether one calls them cyclamates, as in "cycle" or "sicklamates" depends on whether one rides a cycle or a "sickle". The hon. Lady can take much credit for the success of her campaign, and again I congratulate her, on behalf of the House, on her excellent speech.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), whose speeches and writings always receive the greatest attention, today delivered a speech such as we expected from him, and I praise him without qualification. It was effortless and persuasive, spiced with wit and humour and the hon. Gentleman was, as always, master of his case.
The hon. Gentleman's performance was expected and it was comprehensible. What, perhaps, to some of us is less comprehensible is how anybody of his calibre—any hon. Gentleman opposite able to deliver a speech of that quality—could have been omitted by his Leader from a place in his Administration. Ah, but perhaps in some unguarded moment the hon. Gentleman has also been irreverent about his Leader; and we all know the consequences of that. It almost leads one to have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. Once he banishes the irreverent and weeds out the irrelevant he obviously finds it difficult to cover the Front Bench opposite satisfactorily.
This makes it all the more puzzling why the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian was omitted from the Administration. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect a place in the administration of this Parliament, and, personally, he is not likely to have a place at all here in the next. At least he will have the satisfaction of knowing that on this occasion he made a first-class speech for which he will long be remembered.
20 There has been a considerable buildup for the Gracious Speech in what we are told is a General Election Session. No resources at the disposal of the Government have been spared to build this up. Let us admit that they are never slow to use the resources at their disposal. This was indeed to be a major occasion towards the end of the life of the present Government. I said that no resources were spared. I mean that not even the Chief Whip on television was excluded.
§ Mr. Heath
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. Any comic show goes down well nowadays.
This Gracious Speech was to contain details of the glittering prizes for the British people. After all the broken promises had been admitted and proclaimed, after all the misjudgment and failures of the past five years, and after the years of rising prices, squeeze, freeze and high and rising unemployment, at last the British people were to receive their rewards in this Queen's Speech.
But consider what, for example, the Chief Whip said on that occasion on television:It is a fact that the promises, many of the promises we made, have not been fulfilled.We do not challenge that in any way. He went on:But you know we have a Queen's Speech on the 28th October. I say to the British people—read that carefully, here's a whole series of promises, … You'll see that there's a number of promises here that in fact once again we shall redeem.I do not inquire how a broken promise can be redeemed once again: that is a matter which only the Chief Whip can sort out.
But here is the Queen's Speech—to be a great reward to the British people—and what do we find? First of all, nothing we have not heard before. Not a single new proposal is there to be found in the Queen's Speech. But, secondly, there are some notable omissions. There is no mention of prices and incomes policy—[Interruption.] It would be unworthy to think that there was any ulterior motive —[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—and particularly to think that the Government were 21 running away from their speeches at Brighton, or anything like that.
There may, indeed, be a technical reason. But one would have thought that if the Queen's Speech was full of proposals, more proposals and, in the case of the National Health Service, fresh proposals, there could have been some mention of prices and incomes policy and what the Government's intention was. Is there to be an Order to reactivate Part II of the 1966 Act when the present legislation is allowed to fall out of action? Perhaps the Prime Minister will tell us very clearly what is to happen there.
Then there are some worthy Bills that we are delighted to see. There is to be a Bill to deal with old friends like the Merchant Shipping Acts which will please hon. Gentlemen below the gangway. There is a Bill for the safety of fishermen, and legislation for industrial health, which I welcome, because when I was Minister of Labour we put in train the first steps towards an industrial health service—[Interruption.] We have heard about my period at the Ministry of Labour so often from the Prime Minister that he might also like to know what was happening then.
There are some major measures which are damaging to the national interest and the national life; in particular Measures to impose comprehensive education eventually and to indulge in further nationalisation.
But, looking at the Queen's Speech as a whole, what those who study these matters from inside and outside the House will agree is that there are very few major items there which are relevant today to the mass of the British people.
Of course, it is set in the context of the improvement in the balance of payments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has established that there is considerable surplus on the balance of payments. No doubt it is a cause of concern to the Prime Minister that so many commentators have expressed scepticism about the presentation of trade statistics. I am sure that he, as a former President of the Board of Trade, will want to see this matter cleared up by the Board of Trade, and that any possible question of double accounting or making allowances for trade which has already been returned, will be 22 dealt with. I trust the Prime Minister will make a note of that point. Perhaps he can take some consolation from the remark of the new President of the Board of Trade, who said in a speech in the country, admittedly under some provocation, that all Government statistics are accurate but some are more accurate than others.
But the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be the first to admit, on behalf of the present Home Secretary, that the present surplus on balance of payments has been achieved at a price to the British people which is far from negligible. It is the price of devaluation of the currency, of high unemployment, of rapidly rising prices, of heavy taxation, a barely rising standard of living, and £3,000 million worth of overseas debt. Perhaps that can be summed up in the terms of the right hon. Gentleman's own election manifesto, when he promised the country that people's standard of living would be increased by 25 per cent. in five years: since 1966 it has been increased by precisely 3.9 per cent. Let us be quite fair about this. The establishment of a surplus on balance of payments has been at a price which can be very clearly demonstrated in terms of Labour Party promises last time.
And now, the tasks ahead. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government have described them in the Queen's Speech. We are told that the attaining of a surplus is… in order to meet our international obligations and rebuild our reserves, achieve a more rapid rate of economic growth "?—though there is no means indicated of achieving this?—and safeguard employment.Perhaps we should look at those words rather carefully. The earlier words about maintaining a high and stable level of employment have now been banished. Is it now the policy of the Government that unemployment should remain at the high level of more than a half a million consistently throughout the year?
Again, there is no mention in the aims and objectives of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government of dealing with rising prices in the handling of our economy. Perhaps this is understandable, because the Government are committed to the policy of entry into the 23 European Economic Community, and under that policy they are, of course, committed to the imposition of a value-added tax. They are committed to the imposition of an agricultural policy, the consequence of which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—[Interruption.] —have frequently described—[Interruption.]—I am sorry—it grieves me to see any disagreement of this kind among hon. Members opposite. I understood that at the Labour Party's Brighton conference there was unanimity on the resolutions passed. [Interruption.] Surely this unanimity cannot have broken down so soon.
So the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that he is committed to a value-added tax. Indeed, in fairness to him, I think that he would like to have it. And he and the Prime Minister are committed to accepting an agricultural policy the impact of which—[Interruption.]—perhaps hon. Members could have the Labour Party meeting upstairs rather than here. He is committed to an agricultural policy which would put up the price of food in this country at least three times as much as would our own proposals for British agriculture. It is therefore quite understandable that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have not shown any objective concern on prices in the Queen's Speech.
What is the purpose of the economic management on which they are embarked? I would say that it is to achieve five ends—and these should be the objectives of economic management of any Government. The first is to achieve a surplus on balance of payments. Her Majesty's Government have achieved this once in three years. The second is to achieve a high and stable level of employment. There have now been over half a million out of work for 25 out of the last 26 months. The Government have therefore failed in that objective. The third is to achieve stable prices. Prices are up 23 per cent.—the fastest rise since the last Labour Government were in office. They have therefore failed in that objective.
The fourth objective should be to maintain free collective bargaining—perhaps we can have general agreement about that below the Gangway. This objective has been abandoned by the Government 24 above the Gangway. It has done undoubted damage to our industrial relations, and we are seeing the consequences now. So that aim has not been achieved. The last aim should be to achieve a reasonable rate of rapid growth—and under this Government it is half what it was under us for the corresponding four years.
So, if we examine what should be the five aims of economic management of any government, this Government can now claim to have achieved one and to have failed in four. Let us give them full credit for that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is like a man trying to get five plates in the air at once. He has now got one in the air and the other four have crashed to the floor. Let us give him credit for what he has done, but do not let him ask us to cheer him wholeheartedly when the other four plates have crashed irretrievably to the floor.
Let us look at the other criteria on which we should judge the Gracious Speech. Let us take, first, industrial relations. As I said, the Queen's Speech has very little of prime relevance to the British people today. Another Bill has been promised, but vie know what it will contain. It will contain the remains of "In Place of Strife" after the Prime Minister— and much against the right hon. Lady's wish—had abandoned the Government's original position. It will not be the Bill it ought to be. Perhaps here I may ask the Prime Minister what I have asked him before, without success in getting an answer: can he give an undertaking that, as there are not to be any sanctions against trade unions or trade unionists, there will not either be sanctions against employers or others affected by this Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "What about you?"] I have been perfectly prepared, as we have set out in "Fair Deal at Work" to pursue our industrial arrangements through the courts. The Government have not, so the question does not arise. This Government are being urged by the trade unions to abandon all sanctions as far as they are concerned, but to impose sanctions on employers in the circumstances laid down. Perhaps the Prime Minister will now give us a clear undertaking about this.
Let us look at the strike position in this country now. This year strikes are 25 up by 67 per cent. over the average of the last eight years. Since the Prime Minister's abject surrender in the summer, the average of strikes is up by 120 per cent. over the average of the last eight years. That shows the increase in strikes since the surrender of the Prime Minister in midsummer. In other words, despite the efforts made by Mr. Feather and the T.U.C., despite the efforts made by the right hon. Lady after the Prime Minister capitulated, they knew that this Government were a pushover, a pushover for anyone who liked to give a shove and we are today seeing the results. The industrial unrest we are seeing today is the direct result of the Government's policy of compulsion in industrial relations and the abdication of the Government's proposals.
I turn to the question of the wage situation, which must be causing the Chancellor of the Exchequer some concern because it is related to the capitulation of the Prime Minister on the industrial relations front. There have recently been announced increases of a very high order-10 per cent. for miners, 16 per cent. for the London dustmen, 16 per cent. for the exhibition standfitters so as to get the motor show off the ground, 8 per cent, and 14 per cent. for British Leyland clerical staff, 15 per cent. for English Clay workers, 18 per cent. to 20 per cent. for motor vehicle retailing and repair workers. I of course give the right hon. Lady credit if she says that productivity agreements were taken into account in these awards, but can the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he speaks later, assure the House that the level of these increases gives him no concern at all? I should have thought that in this present situation, with the strains laid on him by the I.M.F., to see wage increases of this size must be a matter for anxiety for him and for the Government.
Indeed I suggest that we are getting into the position in which we were before the General Election in March, 1966, in which the Government were letting wage rates rip in order to see that increases would outwit the I.M.F. constraints and be achieved in people's pockets before corresponding increases in prices. I think that after this has happened we shall see the Government having again to take the action which was taken when the present Home Secretary was Chancellor in 1966.
26 This, too, is related to the capitulation of the Prime Minister in the middle of the summer. It is believed now in industry that not only are the Government a pushover on the strike front, but on the wages front as well. This is a consequence of the Prime Minister's action.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that real wages have increased faster during the last five years than they did in the previous five years?
That was a worthy attempt by the hon. Member; but the figures bear almost no relationship. In the last five years the standard of living—which is real wages—has increased by only 3.9 per cent. That is much less than the increase in the former five years. [Interruption.] If the Chancellor likes to check the figures he will find that this is the actual fact. Surely, if it were otherwise the Chancellor's policy would have been defeated, because he and the Home Secretary said at the time of devaluation that the consequence must be to depress the standard of living of the British people or it would not have its effect. Sure enough, it has had the effect.
I turn to the second point in the Queen's Speech which has no relevance to the situation of the British people today—the proposal for comprehensive education. [Laughter.] That is a very hollow laugh. Joke about this one. The Prime Minister recently made a speech in praise of local government, and I should like to quote some of his words. He said:None here, and thank heaven, few outside, would for one moment depreciate the fundamental and growing importance of local government in our democracy … Local government is needed because there will always be things which are best decided locally by people on the spot through their local representatives.Perhaps the Prime Minister will say "Hear, hear" to that. It is apparently all right to settle things locally provided that does not conflict with the dogma of the Socialist Government. If it does then there is to be blackmail by the Secretary of State through finance and, when that is unsuccessful, legislation from the Westminster Parliament to impose it upon them.
27 There are 16,000 classes in this country with more than 40 children and 100,000 with more than 30 children in them. Let us ask the Government—[Interruption.] I know that hon. Members do not like this because it cannot be justified—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Heath
This Measure proposed by the Government will do nothing to raise educational standards; it will do nothing to get more teachers; it will do nothing to reduce the size of classes; it will do nothing to improve conditions in slum primary schools. All it will do is to flaunt the wishes of parents and local authorities which do not wish to impose comprehensive about whether or not those local authorities and those parents who wish should have comprehensive schools. Of course they are fully entitled to have them, but it is better that they should have purpose-built comprehensive schools than botched-up schemes. The Secretary of State has made perfectly plain that there will be no money for new comprehensive schools under this Government. This Measure will do nothing to improve education but will merely dictate the dogmas of the Government to unwilling parents and unwilling authorities. That is why we shall oppose it.
I turn to the next question which affects the British people so closely, housing. What measures are proposed by the Government to help those people who are still living in terrible housing conditions, more than 2 million of them? The number of completions of houses is declining rapidly. It is even now 700 fewer than it was in 1964. This is not the—[Interruption.]— I do not know why the Prime Minister shoud cheer the fact that he is producing fewer houses than in 1964. That does not seem to me a matter for cheering. Nor can he blame Conservative local authorities [HOM MEMBERS: "Oh!"] because the decrease has been to a far greater extent in private house building. The reason is very plain to see. First, there are the increased costs of provate house building under the present Government by which the average price has gone up from £3,500 to £4,500, and secondly, up to 1964 anyone 28 earning an average industrial wage could afford a mortgage but today he cannot. The monthly cost of a mortgage is roughly £5 above the average industrial wage. Today there are about 1 million people—[Interruption.]—there is no need for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) to get so heated about it. He should look at the figures.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition does not give way, the hon. Gentleman must sit down.
§ Mr. Heath
There are about 1 million people today with mortgages who, as a result of the high interest rates, can no longer afford to maintain their mortgages and are having the greatest difficulty in doing so. That is the housing problem today. There are no measures in the Gracious Speech which hold out any hope for these people.
The next proposed Measure is the pensions Bill which is to be based on the Secretary of State's proposals. We were told in "Signposts for the Sixties" that this was to be one of the first Measures of the new Labour Government. After five years we still have to see the legislation. What matters in this legislation is what provision will be made for occupational pension schemes to continue and to increase. It is on that criterion that we shall judge whether the Bill is justifiable. There is every indication that the Secretary of State is unable to meet these requirements. It has been made clear by N.A.L.G.O., for example, that, on the consultations which have so far taken place, its own scheme will be adversely affected or is liable to be adversely affected. We therefore wait to see what this proposal is.
Quite apart from this proposal, what hope is there for those of whom the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman spoke so eloquently just now, who are the neglected in this country, families still living below the poverty line, the 250,000 children of these families? What hope is there for them as foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech? None whatsoever. What about the chronic sick and the disabled wives? What about the old folk, 29 in particular those over 80 with no pensions, in particular those wanting home help, in particular those who want chiropody services and home meals? I am not blaming—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Heath
I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman and his party for having caused these problems. What I am saying is that in any advancing community we ought to be able to find a solution to them. This Government are not only failing to find that solution; they are doing less than we were doing in real terms, and they hold out no hope for these people in this Gracious Speech.
I have mentioned the neglected at home. What about the neglected overseas? The mover of the Loyal Address mentioned this and emphasised his concern for them. As recently as 14th September the Prime Minister said that he had been overwhelmed with letters asking for an assurance that there would not be a reduction in overseas aid. He said:I can give that assurance. It has not been cut even in the most difficult days.At first sight there is some difficulty in reconciling that with what the Prime Minister said in announcing his 20th July, 1966. measures that the Government would includereductions on military and civil aid expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 633.]Ought we therefore to accuse him of having failed in his intention as expressed on 20th July, 1966?
No, not a bit. The Prime Minister has succeeded in his intention. Overseas aid has been reduced. The conflict lies in his statement this September that there had been no reduction in overseas aid. It has been reduced in absolute terms by £4 million. What matters is the currency overseas to those who have to use it. There it has been reduced by 94 million dollars. Looked at as a proportion of the gross national product it has been reduced by 0.11 per cent. The Foreign Secretary must know this perfectly well. Indeed, it has been emphasised by the Minister who so recently resigned. So once again the Prime Minister is asserting a fact, that there has been no damage to overseas aid, 30 whereas the figures prove him to be wrong.
I turn, finally, to a very remarkable omission from the Gracious Speech. Surely the Government ought to have inserted in it a further two paragraphs. First:My Ministers will lay Orders to implement the recommendations of the Boundary Commission so as to ensure the fair parliamentary representation of My people.That would be followed by a further paragraph, addressed toMembers of the House of CommonsMy Ministers will then ask you to reject the Orders that they have laid before you.In 1964 we heard a great deal about the style of this Government. It was a style of promises lightly given and equally lightly broken. The lightly given promises were then replaced by solemn pledges which were equally solemnly abandoned. Bills were introduced—for example, that to reform the House of Lords, which was the Prime Ministers own Bill based on the Prime Minister's own White Paper; and the Prime Minister himself discarded it. He then abandoned the procedure of introducing Bills and put forward proposals such as that for trade union reform; and on that he has capitulated.
Now he has descended to the shabby business of laying Orders before the House of Commons and whipping his own side to reject those very Orders. He has turned government into a cynical farce. When the hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech spoke very eloquently about this matter and said that it is the responsibility of the Government to set the tone to our society, perhaps this was what he had in mind. This is a shabby trick of which the Government themselves ought to be ashamed. It will not save them. The time will come when they will have to make way for a Government who will uphold the traditions of British parliamentary life and who will govern with honour and integrity.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
I will hope to deal with some of the more relevant parts of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in a few moments. I want to begin by joining him in expressing congratulations to the mover and seconder of the Loyal 31 Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that both of them lived up fully to the very high standards which have been set in past years for the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Address.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) gave the House, as is traditional, a picture, but a very revealing picture, of his constituency, with its coal, agriculture, fishing and tourism. He was able to give the House some very valuable information about the transition from old industries to new industries in his constituency, something which is happening all over the country as the older industries give place to the new, particularly, as my hon. Friend reminded us, those related to exports.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), whom many of us in the House have known for many years, must recognise the pleasure which the Gracious Speech gave her today. Just as over the past year she has seen the implementation in legislation and in executive action of something for which, as a prominent co-operator, she has fought for so many years—the establishment of much more thoroughgoing consumer protection—now in this Gracious Speech she is able to take satisfaction from the decisions that the Government have taken about the Bill which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State will be introducing on the subject of equal pay.
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may have said—and it was, of course, the usual kind of speech that we get from him on these occasions, more looking backwards than forwards—I think that the majority of the House will agree with my hon. Friends that the Gracious Speech is comprehensive, up to date and relevant, both economically and to the social needs of the country.
I want to start with one subject to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Earlier this month I announced the appointment of a Secretary of State with responsibility for housing, local government, regional planning, land use, transport and the environment generally. He is taking personal charge of the consultations with the principal local 32 authority organisations about the future of local government in the light of the Report of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission.
I think that everyone will agree that these consultations are urgent and that we need new legislation to modernise the whole system of local government. Following these consultations, we hope that about the turn of the year we shall be able to lay a White Paper before the House giving the Government's conclusions about the main principles in Maud and the main structural changes that will form the basis of legislation. Then, of course, will follow next year the consultations on local authority boundaries consequent on the decisions about structure.
Meanwhile, as the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who welcomed the Wheatley Royal Commission's Report on Local Government in Scotland, is consulting with Scottish local authorities with the intention of publishing a White Paper in the early part of next year.
As the House knows, there has been no corresponding Royal Commission for Wales, but the Government published proposals in the White Paper of July, 1967. These have been the subject of extensive consultations and it was decided in 1968 that while we all recognise the undesirability of seeking to impose a single type of solution on the various and very differing parts of Britain, Welsh local authorities and others concerned should have the opportunity to think again about the White Paper proposals in the light of the recommendations made by Maud.
In the light of further consideration, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales proposes now to make a further urgent review of the situation in the geographical counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth to see if a satisfactory pattern can be worked out which will avoid the continued division between county boroughs and administrative counties, and he will report his conclusions about the end of the year.
The Queen's Speech refers to legislation arising out of the Seebohm Committee's recommendations and to fresh proposals about the future of the National Health Service. The House will understand that it was essential to examine 33 Seebohm, together with the reorganisation of the health services, in the light of the Maud consultations, because all of these are inter-related. Indeed, final decisions cannot sensibly be taken on Seebohm, nor any new proposals made on the reorganisation of the health services, until the Government have taken a view on the basic structure for reorganised local government. Today's announcement makes it clear that when we have done this we shall be able to finalise our proposals for legislation on Seebohm and introduce a Bill this Session. Meanwhile, work is going on. On the administrative structure of the health services, a revised Green Paper will be issued immediately after the White Paper on local government reorganisation.
May I here say a word on a matter which was not touched on in earlier speeches. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning has been charged with a special and urgent remit about environmental pollution in all its forms. Hon. Members, who are already disturbed about pollution, will have been shocked by evidence which has grown over the past few days about the particularly serious pollution problem on our coastal waters, on which the Natural Environment Research Council made its findings at the weekend. A great deal of work has already been done on pollution by the Central Advisory Council on Science and Technology, by the Departments concerned and by the Select Committee. This work will be drawn together by my right hon. Friend, and should his recommendations involve changes in machinery or more stringent legislation these will also be brought before the House this Session.
I should now like to turn to the main legislative programme in the field of social concern and social justice. The Gracious Speech foreshadows legislation on national superannuation, on education—both of these were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman—on dangerous drugs and an extension of the protection to be given by society in respect of human rights.
On national superannuation and social insurance, the Bill will be presented, I think, early in the Session. Although the 34 right hon. Gentleman is suspending judgment on it, I think that he will be prepared to say that it is an historic Measure because its aim is to end once and for all the division of two nations in old age. It will follow the lines of the two White Papers, that of last January in dealing with contributions and long-term benefits, and the one published in July dealing with short-term benefits and the special problems of the long-term sick and the disabled, about whom the right hon. Gentleman had a little to say. We are doing something about it in this Bill.
A further White Paper will be laid before the House shortly, following consultations now proceeding on another point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, on the terms for partial contracting-out and abatement, which will form the basis of the partnership between the new scheme and occupational pension schemes. This is an extremely difficult problem, but it is one that has got to be grappled with if we are not going back to what has sometimes been the view of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that those who have occupational pension schemes can have the benefit of them and the rest are second-class citizens in old age.
In the field of education, before I come to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend has set in hand a review of the whole of the educational legislation from 1944 to 1968 and is consulting all the organisations concerned with educational policy and administration. Early next year my right hon. Friend hopes to publish a statement setting out the Government's proposals for a general reform of educational law. Again, this cannot be finalised until the pattern of local government changes is clearer.
But there is one issue relating to the widening and extension of educational activity which must be tackled this Session. I say "must" to the right hon. Gentleman who, in his reference to education, talked about "slum primary schools". Hon. Gentlemen opposite would not even publish the report that they sat on for so many months until the 1964 election was over. We are spending very much more—and the right hon. Gentleman knows it—on every side of education than the highest that his Government reached at the end of 13 years. 35 For him to pretend that these problems are not being tackled, when they were left for so long by the right hon. Gentleman, amazes even me, accustomed though I am to some of his speeches.
There is this one issue that must be tackled this Session, and that is the reorganisation of our secondary schools on comprehensive lines. I was touched by the right hon. Gentleman's quotation from what I said at Scarborough to the A.M.C. and his feeling that local authorities should be free to decide these matters. It was his Government who held up Labour authority after Labour authority in the provision of comprehensive education. Many of my right hon. Friends themselves serving in local government can give the right hon. Gentleman an example.
The majority of authorities are, in fact, co-operating with national policy and working towards the full implementation of well-planned local schemes. But the completion of the task and the availability of comprehensive education in significant areas of the country are held back by the opposition of a small minority of local education authorities. The Bill that my right hon. Friend is laying before Parliament will empower him to require any local education authority in England and Wales to prepare and submit for his approval plans for reorganising secondary education in their areas on comprehensive lines.
We have had warning—and it seems to have been confirmed—that even before this Bill has been published there are those who will want to fight this proposal on partisan and doctrinaire lines, regardless of the rights of parents and children who want comprehensive education and equality of opportunity. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will think again before they rush into this kind of opposition, and at any rate wait until they see the Bill. If outside pressures—and I know what they are—on right hon. Gentlemen opposite make this impossible for them, the right hon. Gentleman will be perfectly free to lead his troops into battle with the cry, "Save the 11-plus."
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman has just said that those local authorities which want to have comprehensive education at the moment can have it and that 36 there is a minority who do not wish to change to these schemes. Can he say why, on his own dictum of local people settling their own arrangements, this small minority, however small, should not have the right to settle their own arrangements?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman very selectively quoted that sentence from what I said at Scarborough. The answer is that this House, and the Government responsible to this House, have the right and the duty to provide equality of educational opportunity. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite sometimes use their powers to stop the advance of comprehensive schools, we at any rate have the right to see that the small minority of local authorities who are stopping it now must come into line with national policy.
Another Measure foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech—I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman referred to it, but I am sure that he will welcome it—is aimed at a serious social problem which has grown in dimension, with increasing casualties in Britain as in many other countries, year by year over the past decade. That is the problem of dangerous drugs.
In 1967, the Government introduced legislation to deal with serious abuses in the supply of heroin to addicts and to strengthen the law against those who are prepared to destroy the minds and bodies of our young people for the sake of their own miserable profit. But practice has shown that this law, indeed the whole armoury of existing legislation does not go far enough. In particular, it is not flexible enough to give my right hon. Friend the immediate powers he needs to deal with new variants of the drug menace, or to block loop-holes that unscrupulous men are always able to devise in any kind of legislation.
My right hon. Friend's new Bill will not only bring all the existing powers under one Act, but will give him powers on advice from the international bodies or experts in this country, to devise appropriate regimes of control for any drug, new or old, according to its legitimate use, its dangers and its social effects.
In other words, he will have the flexibility to provide new defences against some of the things which are going on 37 and which can change from time to time. It is appropriate to recall that this has been the basis of poisons legislation for over 30 years—other poisons—and it is highly appropriate that it should now be applied to dangerous drugs.
I have mentioned legislation to extend the rights of the retired, the opportunities for our children, and to deter those who seek to profit from the degradation of young people. There is legislation, too, in the Gracious Speech to protect human rights. The House knows and has endorsed the Government's actions, not only this summer but over many years, to ensure that Northern Ireland's citizens of the United Kingdom have the same rights, the same freedom from discrimination that we have all of us successfully asserted for the rest of the United Kingdom.
All hon. Members endorse what my right hon. Friend said two or three weeks ago about the action to be taken following the Hunt Committee's recommendations. Whilst most of this legislation is a matter for the Northern Ireland Parliament, legislation by this Parliament will be introduced both to establish the new defence forces in Northern Ireland and to meet the Hunt Committee's proposal that arrangements should be made for a closer relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and forces on the mainland.
The legislation on human rights in this programme does not stop there. Last spring, many hon. Members showed their concern in the debates on the Private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) about financial provision for wives following the dissolution of marriage. My hon. Friend withdrew his Bill on the promise of an early Report by the Law Commission, and legislation to follow. No time has been lost. The Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Bill, to be introduced this week, I think, in another place, will implement the Law Commission's 25th Report, dealing with financial provisions.
Even the most partisan hon. Member will be prepared, I think, to give credit to the work of my noble Friend, the Lord Chancellor, in law reform and the modernisation of our law and machinery for the administration of justice. With the establishment and work of the Law 38 Commission and all that has been done to modernise both the law and administration of justice, I doubt whether anyone can name any other five-year period in our history in which so much has been achieved. Work will be continued with the Administration of Justice Bill. This, among other things, will abolish imprisonment for debt, will give protection for mortgagors against existing court powers to obtain possession and will reconstitute the Divisions of the High Court including the creation of a Family Division.
Also dealing with the administration of justice, the seal will be put on all that has been achieved by major legislation to be introduced to implement the Report of the Beeching Royal Commission on our judicial institutions. It is not only the fact that there has been practically no change in the arrangements for holding assizes and quarter sessions since Plantagenet times, which is the fact; more serious is the fact that the law's delays have become intolerable in criminal and civil courts alike, and, over the past decade, we have been moving closer and closer to a breakdown in the administration of justice.
The Government warmly accept in principle the recommendations of Beeching, while leaving for consultation certain detailed recommendations about the siting of the new courts to be established and the other implications of the Report. I hope that these consultations can be speedy as well as forward-looking, so that, as quickly as possible, we can introduce the legislation for bringing the new structure into being.
My hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies will welcome a further measure of law reform, a Bill on feudal reform and conveyancing, designed to abolish the worst aspects of one of Scotland's oldest and most out-dated institutions—the feudal system of land tenure.
From modernisation of the law and our system of justice and the strengthening of human rights, it would be right to refer to a series of Measures designed to give protection and more equality of rights to those employed in industry. First in importance—this was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green—will be the introduction by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of the Bill to end discrimination against women 39 in rates of pay. A lead has to be given by practical and effective Government legislation: it cannot be left entirely to negotiations in industry. Following consultations with the C.B.I., the T.U.C. and others, we shall bring this legislation forward this Session, and I trust that the House will give it a speedy and unanimous passage.
Then we have the Bill on safety and health in industry, which will give workers a statutory right to joint consultation on safety and health questions and will take a further step towards the development of an occupational medical service. There will also be the Mineral Working (Offshore Installations) Bill, dealing with those employed on drilling rigs.
Also in the industrial reforms will be three measures affecting the fuel industry. In gas and electricity—I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this—we are beginning to see the benefits for the consumer resulting from the massive investment, which has had to be paid for, in North Sea gas and the expansion of electrical generation, including nuclear power stations.
But the coal industry has passed in recent years through a very anxious period and right hon. Gentlemen who sometimes leap into critical attitudes about coal would do well to consider how far these anxieties expressed in these recent strikes reflect the very much greater anxiety throughout the industry over a decade of colliery closures. A policy of intensified closures has been necessary and it has been accompanied by a remarkable improvement in productivity of 9 per cent. in the coal mining industry last year—[Interruption.] Yes, 9 per cent., I was saying to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). Nine per cent. was the increase last year.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
I am grateful to the Prime Minister. I did not contradict him. He is quite correct in saying that the increase was 9 per cent. last year. What I wanted to ask him was how he reconciled that with the fact that the recent strikes have all taken place in the most highly mechanised and modernised pits—for example, Bevercotes and Thoresby, in 40 the East Midlands coalfield—where miners should be most contented and should show no signs of dissatisfaction at all.
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure that the miners will always be prepared to accept lectures from the hon. Gentleman about their being satisfied with their lot. There have, of course, been very great difficulties, involving miners who have worked in many cases a lifetime in the industry having to get used to entirely different methods of working underground, as many of my hon. Friends know. Those of us who have been to see some of these revolutionary changes know how much they have had to learn to adjust themselves to.
I have referred to colliery closures and to productivity. But those who work in the industry—and this is what they say to me time and gain, however critical they are of the Government—realise what would have been the fate of those made redundant by colliery closures if a similar closure programme on the scale which has been necessary had been carried through against the background of a Conservative Government, because the worst effects of what we have had to do in the coal industry have been tempered by extensive measures to cushion the effect on the industry of the run-down and also by the humanity with which those who have suffered redundancy, particularly elder workers, have been treated. This problem for the coal industry is not over and, as the Gracious Speech makes clear, we are introducing a Measure to continue into the 1970s the programme of transitional help which the industry has been able to receive.
We hope to see early progress with the Merchant Shipping Bill, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred as an old friend. In fact, those of us who have the honour—I think that he has, too—of representing seafaring constituents, know the resentment which is felt that the conditions of employment in the shipping industry are still regulated by the provisions of a very old friend indeed—or, rather, a very old enemy—a Bill which his Government did nothing about but which was enacted three years before Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Now it is to go. I know that it will also be welcomed in fishing ports that there will be new Measures to give statutory effect to provisions 41 which are necessary to minimise the dangers and the loss of life of the fishermen of Britain.
Another necessary Bill is that to deal with labour-only sub-contracting in the construction industries—a development which has pernicious effects on industrial relations in the industry, to say nothing of the flagrant evasion of taxation and other social obligations by those concerned.
The legislation on ports reorganisation will give effect to the proposals contained in the White Paper published last January. The rise thoughout this year of the nation's exports, far from justifying complacency about inefficiency and delays, underlines the need for a new deal in Britain's docks. The Bill is designed to eliminate divided responsibility, which breeds frustration and inefficiency, whether in port management or in cargo handling within the ports. These objectives will be achieved by bringing the major ports under national ownership and extending public ownership and control to common-user port operations through the medium of a National Ports Authority.
I come to the question of local employment. Most hon. Members are proud of what the Government in this Parliament have achieved and are achieving in bringing work to the development areas. But there has been great concern about the position in a number of intermediate areas, in particular, those which were surveyed in the Hunt Report. The Local Employment Bill will give effect to the policy which the Government announced last Session.
I come to a major issue which in different forms has occupied the attention of the House ever since the introduction, over 20 years ago, of the first monopolies legislation in 1948. I refer to the problem of the accountability of industry—and I mean both sides of industry—to the nation, the related problems of the abuse of market power which can exist, but does not necessarily exist, in monopoly conditions, and the related questions of price policy, service to the consumer, wages policy and industrial efficiency.
The Gracious Speech announces the merger and rationalisation of the Monopolies Commission and the National 42 Board for Prices and Incomes. Up to now their specific responsibilities have been quite separate. But although it has been right to draw a distinction—and we shall maintain a distinction—between, for example, short-term surveys of particular industries, where there are anxieties about incomes or pricing policies, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, examinations of industries with monopolistic tendencies, there has been a tendency towards overlapping, and this has caused problems for individual industries and firms.
I know that there has been some anxiety, for example on the part of the C.B.I., about the proposal announced today, but following the assurance which I gave to its representatives last week, now that the announcement has been made today it will be possible for my right hon. Friend the First Secretary to enter into more detailed consultations with the principal industrial organisations and then consultations on the permanent legislation which will govern these matters.
With regard to the existing prices and incomes legislation, the Government propose to lay before Parliament an Order under the 1966 Act to enable price increases and the implementation of pay settlements to be held up for three months while the Prices and Incomes Board examines them. This will be a bridging measure until the new legislation comes into force, to which I have referred, to establish a body to correct abuses of market power. On this proposed Order, too, my right hon. Friend is in consultation with the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. as required by the Act.
Now that the policy decision about the future of the Monopolies Commission and the National Board for Prices and Incomes has been taken—and I referred to that in my statement to the House on 13th October—responsibility for monopolies, mergers and restrictive practices is to be transferred from the Board of Trade to the Department of Employment and Productivity. A Transfer of Functions Order will be laid before the House tomorrow.
I must make it clear that the statutory and other responsibilities of the principal industrial Departments—the Ministry of Technology in particular, but also other Departments who have 43 the sponsorship responsibilities for individual industries—will not be affected any more than they have been in the past. Nor does this mean any change in the Government's policy of driving for greater efficiency in industry by all that has been achieved by such bodies as the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, the Shipbuilding Industry Board and those responsible for the operation of the Industrial Expansion Act.
Three years ago the establishment of the I.R.C. was a matter of great controversy in the House. I repeat to hon. Members opposite—because they opposed it and fought it both in the election and in the House—that our present more favourable position in exports, and particularly the expanding export orders which are being reported by industry month by month, as well as the more encouraging investment prospects in Britain, would not have been possible without the work of the I.R.C. and the Ministry of Technology. Industry recognises this, if hon. Gentlemen opposite do not. It is interesting that the French Prime Minister has advocated the establishment of a French I.R.C., on the lines of our own, to deal with some of the industrial problems which France is now facing.
It is significant that great interest is being shown in Europe in the concept of a European I.R.C. But it is also interesting to note that the right hon. Gentleman recently said that if—by any mischance—he ever got back to power, the Conservatives would abolish the I.R.C. and repeal the Industrial Expansion Act. On every pledge he was giving this afternoon of increased expenditure on every element in the social services, I saw no indication of any ability to reduce taxes.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the passage in the Gracious Speech dealing with industrial relations. The House debated these questions on 3rd July. My right hon. Friend and I explained in that debate that in the light of the solemn and binding undertaking given by the T.U.C. to the Government on 18th June we had decided not to introduce in this Parliament legislation providing legal sanctions with respect to inter-union disputes and unconstitutional 44 stoppages. But the Government's White Paper put forward many other proposals which can effectively help to deal with the underlying causes of industrial problems.
Whatever differences there have been within industry or within the House about the form and the likely effectiveness of particular legislative proposals, there is widespead agreement about the need to get at these underlying causes of disputes. Industry itself, as well as the Government, has in these past few months begun to move much more quickly to establish ways of doing just this.
But this attack on the basic problems of industrial relations in Britain cannot be effective without major changes in the law, which we shall put before the House. I refer to many changes recommended by the Donovan Commission, changes to extend and strengthen collective bargaining, especially at company level, measures to protect the individual employee in his contractual relationship with his employer, and measures to amend a number of obsolete provisions in trade union law. It is in this area of the industrial relations problem that legislation will be brought before the House. My right hon. Friend is currently consulting the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. about her proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman was right, not only today but in something which he wrote at the weekend, and in recent speeches, to raise some of the wider issues about industrial relations. In our view, where he is wrong is in his belief that his own proposals have any relevance in this field or any likelihood of being effective. I think that he tended again today to minimise what the T.U.C. itself has done and has tried to do in dealing with this most intransigent problem of modern industrial society, the problem of unconstitutional stoppages, of perhaps tens of thousands, as in the coal industry dispute, or perhaps a handful, as in many recent stoppages in the motor car component industry.
Where a real grievance, perhaps intensified by long delays in the industry's negotiating procedure, or perhaps where an imagined grievance has led to an unconstitutional stoppage. I never believed —and I make this clear to the House, as did Mr. Feather, when talking on the 45 television—that the T.U.C. would succeed in dealing with every strike: 90 per cent. are over within a day or two. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would be wrong if they failed to pay tribute to some of the major issues which have been tackled and dealt with by the T.U.C. since we last debated this matter, problems which no Government alone could have tackled no matter what legislative framework had been in force, certain problems which have not been tackled—and certainly could not have been tackled today, if the Opposition's own proposals had been the law of the land.
I welcome the fact that the Opposition are giving continuing thought to this problem; the fact, too, that in recent speeches they seem to have had second thoughts, and perhaps even to have softened some of the rigidities of their thinking. There is still a good deal of ambiguity in their proposals about the automatic enforceability of industrial agreements, about a 60-day period of notice, about their proposals for a closed shop, and I am sure that they will at some stage want to make their proposals a good deal clearer. But what I think they recognise is that their proposal that the union itself should be responsible at law—and liable to suffer heavy damages—for the irresponsible action of the union's members—all this—raises all the problems which are inherent in the T.U.C.'s own undertaking, because they require the unions to put pressure on their members, and the T.U.C.'s undertaking requires pressure on members, and there is the same difficulty about the form of pressure put on unions.
In some of the difficult cases we have had—and I think of Port Talbot, for example—the union used its best endeavours to get the men back to work. The problem we faced there would certainly not have been solved by the right hon. Gentleman's proposals; it might have been made a great deal more intransigent, not only at Port Talbot but throughout the industry.
I welcome the great amount of thought that is being given by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen and by many in all areas of industry to these questions of industrial disputes even if I profoundly believe that their conclusions are wrong. What I believe, the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to say, is that there might 46 be a case for approaching this immensely difficult and intensely human problem with perhaps a little more humility, a humility that is appropriate from the fact that in 13 years the Tories did precisely nothing themselves, and that the right hon. Gentleman himself, as I have previously pointed out to the House, went to great pains to resist even the idea of a Royal Commission or a real inquiry when he had the Departmental responsibility for deciding these issues; but humility, too, for another reason—because of a growing recognition that such of their simple legalistic proposals as have been tried in other countries are coming increasingly under strain in those countries.
Hon. Members will have read an article last week in the Financial Times about unofficial and official disputes in defiance of agreements and will have read in the same article about what is going on about wage inflation in a number of countries on the Continent of Europe and further afield. Any hon. Member who is tempted to suggest that this is a problem confined to Britain, or that the strike problem, grave though it is in Britain, is greater here than in any other country, does a serious disservice to this country and makes it more difficult for the different parties in industry to establish some kind of consensus about how these problems should be handled.
We have heard a lot about the Opposition's trade union proposals. No one in this country will derive any satisfaction from studying the long record of French strikes in the public services and private industries, but it is relevant to recognise that under French law such strikes are treated as industrial misconduct, and the employer is entitled to dismiss the employee without notice. How far is this likely to happen in any modern industrial country? How likely is this to happen in this country?
Under French law collective agreements are legally binding on both parties and, indeed, on the employee as an individual. Yet legal actions against unions and the individual are extremely rare. Or take Germany, which, over recent years, has recorded only minimal figures for strikes, but where a new problem has arisen in the past few months. Under West German legislation all official strikes during the currency of an agreement and virtually all strikes within a 47 single undertaking are illegal. Under their legislation those organising or taking part in them can be sued and may be liable for heavy damages.
But in how many cases in Germany—and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do some research into this; and it would be the same in this country—once a dispute is over, and in the interests of good future industrial relations, do the employers decide not to insist upon payment of the damages to which they are entitled under the law?
We have a lot to learn from the experience of other countries, including a degree of scepticism about the automatic working of apparently watertight labour legislation. I believe that the great advance which has been made over the past year, particularly since the issue became a matter of public debate as a result of publication of our White Paper, and a still greater advance which will result from the legislation foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, will mean that many countries, frightened by their new experience of what is becoming a world problem, may have a great deal more to learn from us than we have to learn from them.
The right hon. Gentleman, who has put forward proposals which do not work in this country, has quite a lot to learn from them himself; and if he is making not the balance of payments any more but strikes the big issue in which he intends to invest he had better consider this a great deal more seriously, including the advice I have just given him.
§ The Prime Minister
Many countries have got to learn a lot from the proposals we put forward, which involve co-operation with the T.U.C., which have now been supplanted by an undertaking given by almost no other trade union movement in the world outside Sweden, and what the right hon. Gentleman has got to learn is that, with his proposals, he would not have a hope of getting that kind of undertaking or co-operation.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman regards this as a laughing matter, a debating matter. It is a very serious matter for industry. I do not think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are really measuring up to the problems of the wave of militancy which proceeds now not so much from outside influences or militant shop stewards, but from the shop floor itself, which is more and more serious. They must ask themselves how far militancy, even disruption, would be made still more bitter, still more unmanageable, by provocative, doctrinaire legislation of the kind that they are proposing, and how far the task of the T.U.C., of moderate trade union leaders, indeed, of moderate-minded employers, would be made more difficult by a fresh wave of anger on the shop floor.
I now come briefly to one of two points in the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the Gracious Speech. We had from him, of course, as usual, the ritual passionate phrases we have become so familiar with on these occasions. We would have had exactly the same phrases, exactly the same speech, whatever the content of the Gracious Speech. We always do. The right hon. Gentleman's posture of instant opposition—
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The Prime Minister wrote all that before my right hon. Friend spoke.
§ The Prime Minister
Because I know the right hon. Gentleman, of course. But his speech was written long before he heard the Gracious Speech.
I know the right hon. Gentleman. We had so much of it at Brighton. His attitude was well depicted in a cartoon in the Daily Mail last week, commenting on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement about the travel allowance and showing a newsvendor with a placard saying, "Stingy Old Jenkins". Another news placard had been prepared in advance lest my right hon. Friend's statement should have been different, saying, "Squalid Vote Catching". From the right hon. Gentleman, we shall get all these charges, however inconsistent.
The trouble about the right hon. Gentleman is that for over three years he has nailed his colours to a belief in 49 the ultimate failure of this country under a Socialist Government to be able to pay its way. I would remind him of the words of one of his party's leaders, Lord Butler, in the days when the Conservative Party could embrace both a Butler and a Boyle. Lord Butler proclaimed, as a Conservative Government slogan, the phrase "Invest in Success." The problem facing the right hon. Gentleman is that he invested so heavily in failure—above all, in his belief that, under a Labour Government, the country must inevitably fail to get out of the deficit with which he left us into a safe surplus.
Now he is having to live with this situation. Today, instead of investing in failure he is investing in strikes. He is having to live with the fact of a surplus—the fact of an improving national economic and industrial performance. His dilemma today and his fate tomorrow are and will be the dilemma and the fate of the defeatist throughout the ages.
I had occasion recently to refer to the instant sourness of his comments—I think that he was in Scotland at the time—on the balance of payments figures for the second quarter. Forgetting his own miserable record in the second quarter of 1964 —and it was a very miserable one—he took refuge in talk about a seasonal correction over the second and third quarters. Our second quarter this year was well over £300 million better than his second quarter, whether or not seasonally corrected. He then took refuge in his expectations for the third quarter. One remembers the balance of payments deficit in the third quarter of 1964—a deficit of £226 million in a single quarter. I wonder whether he is now awaiting the third quarter figures for this year with the same gloomy confidence that he expressed in Scotland on 11th September. If his gloom turns out to be wrong will he publicly repudiate what he said on these matters?
I have not noticed very much willingness on the right hon. Gentleman's part at any time to pay tribute to what has been achieved in the central element in the balance of payments figures—Britain's performance on visible trade. In the third quarter of 1969 the visible trade account showed a surplus of about £30 million, or, as the latest Board of Trade Press notice made clear, about £10 million after allowing for the timing of recording 50 of documents. When he was President of the Board of Trade our trade performance for the third quarter of 1964 showed not a surplus, but a deficit of £150 million.
The right hon. Gentleman referred—I would have thought that while this was up to the level of the speeches of the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) it was certainly below the level of the right hon. Gentleman—to commentators talking about trade figures. The only commentators of which I am aware, bar one, are right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are conscious of the fact that it is a week of by-elections. There were speeches by two of his hon. Friends—three altogether. I am happy to tell him that we believe that the argument on their side is a charade. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend, when he speaks later, will take time off to explain exactly to right hon. Gentlemen opposite where they have gone wrong in this matter.
It is a remarkable achievement on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to be able to express a deficit of £150 million in a single quarter under the Tories as a great triumph of economic achievement and then, when we have a surplus under a Labour Government, to say that it is the result of bad economic management, and that we have made it impossible for industry to achieve anything of the kind. Our exports in the first nine months of this year—I will give the right hon. Gentleman some more figures—are 57 per cent. more by value and 32 per cent. more by volume than they were when he was in charge of the nation's trade and commerce. If he is saying—this may be the latest excuse—that all this has been done by private enterprise, is he also saying that when he was President of the Board of Trade private enterprise was lacking in drive, lacking in efficiency and lacking in guts, and that it has developed these qualities only under a Socialist Government?
We are asked, "What about invisible earnings?" These amounted to £301 million in the first half of this year—£89 million more than the same period of 1968, and £226 million—or 300 per cent.—greater than when the right hon. Gentleman was President of the Board of Trade. But the right hon. Gentleman has irrevocably committed himself over the past three years to the doctrine that we cannot pay our way under a Labour 51 Government. Because of that partisan commitment he has now got to learn painfully to live with it. [Interruption.] The tributes to Britain's surplus which I have given in different forms to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon should be taken away by him to study because, as far as I know, in five years he has not once paid tribute to what Britain has achieved under a Labour Government. He should go away and study the figures.
I want to give the Leader of the Opposition some rather different advice from that which I have just given to the right hon. Gentleman the Shadow Chancellor. I suggest that he now leaves the question of the economic strength of the nation under a Labour Government to those who believe in it and are working for it. He should take a little time off to look at what is happening to his party. This is something that he does understand. It is a party that is moving steadily to the right, and moving the right hon. Gentleman to the right with it, like a cork on the wave.
Let him spend a little time dealing with the increasing success of Fascist-minded infiltrators into the local commanding heights of his own party and, as in the case of the putsch in North Down, into the party which owes him allegiance in Northern Ireland. He should be taking some interest in that matter. Let him deal with the "skinheads" of Surbiton and leave the management of the economy and of industry to those who have shown that they understand it.
What his party really is—I am trying to help his party to fit itself to be a good opposition party not only this year but for many years to come—was set out in last week's Spectator by one of the leading philosophers of modern Conservatism in an open letter to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), in these words:Your trouble has always been a failure to understand the true source of the Tory Party's strength, the secret of its classless appeal, the reason for its deep roots in the hearts of working people. It is precisely because it is not the 'civilised' party, because, on the contrary, it understands the places of prejudicies and passion, instinct and greed, in human affairs, and does not try to impose on them too rigidly the pattern of reason and principle …".52 He goes on:This is why it has always seemed to me a profound mistake on your part to want to turn the Tories into a civilised party. Heaven knows, there is enough about the Tory Party that is bound to be unpopular …".When the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with all these problems let him come to the House and play his part in carrying through the imaginative and relevant programme which has been put before the House today.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
It is a great honour to be the first Opposition backbencher to be called to speak in this debate after the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address.
Having studied the Gracious Speech with care, I admit that there is a great deal in it with which I would find it extremely difficult to disagree, not that I would wish to do so. For example, there is the need to assist the advancement of the less-developed countries. Hon. Members who have had the opportunity of seeing where some of Britain's aid has gone in recent years must have been gratified by the extremely valuable use to which it has been put.
There are many matters to which I should like to refer, but in the interests of brevity I will pick only three points out of the Gracious Speech for comment. First, in conjunction with all hon. Members, I welcome the Government's resolve to strengthen the economy and to seek to promote the efficiency and competitiveness of industry. It is widely acknowledged that the Government by pursuing certain given policies can stimulate boom economic conditions. However, no Government can by themselves establish these conditions. That must be done by industry itself.
With the current savage levels of taxation there is an ever-diminishing profit surplus available to be ploughed back to finance modernisation and re-equipment, and without adequate reserves of this kind no amount of pious statements in White Papers, Green Papers, Gracious Speeches and so on will inject the necessary efficiency and competitiveness into British industry.
The phrases which are too often used are totally meaningless unless they are supported by practical, realistic and relevant policies. Indeed, 80 per cent. of the 53 economy is in the hands of small businesses and small companies. For the past five years they have been reeling under the burden of severe and monstrous rates of taxation, and this burden has virtually put paid to any expansion or modernisation programmes that might have been in the pipeline in 1964.
The simple way if one is serious about trying to assist industry is by reducing the level of taxation which companies are now being expected to pay. It may be heresy to say—if it is I still believe it —that I often yearn for a return to those days when there was a two-tier structure of company taxation, a higher level for those companies whose profits were distributed and a lower level for those which retain their profits for modernisation projects.
The second point in the Gracious Speech to which I wish to refer is the new scheme for National Insurance, a subject on which much will be said during this debate and again when the Bill is presented. It is not my intention to delay the House at this stage by engaging in talk about the ramifications of the scheme. All must welcome the intention to secure transferability of pension rights. As one who suffered about eight years ago from non-transferability I feel passionately on this subject. It is probably one of the most important reforms which could be carried out in the sphere of social legislation.
It is, however, to another aspect of the topic to which I particularly wish to draw attention; and that is that a determined effort must be made to eradicate as many as possible of the anomalies which have developed in the last 20 years or so in our welfare system. No structure of this type can be perfect, but there are in the present structure certain anomalies which are deplorably inequitable. We now have an opportunity to take a hard look at the whole sphere of social legislation. Let us divert some of our energy to an examination of these anomalies and, as a result, to eradicate them.
I am thinking not only of those senior citizens who are in advance of 87 years of age and who retired prior to 1947 and who through no fault of their own have been unable to secure a penny of State retirement benefit. I am thinking, however, more of the outrageous situation of the widow bereaved before the age of 50 54 who at best receives a mere pittance but who more often receives absolutely nothing. There are more than 100,000 of these ladies in this Kingdom and to give them a decent pension would cost about £20 million.
The revenue product of one penny on the National Insurance stamp is about £10 million. We are thus talking in terms of 2d. on the stamp to raise the revenue necessary to finance this desirable if not essential pension for the young widow. In the last few years there have been substantial increases in National Insurance stamp contributions. I do not believe that anybody would begrudge an extra 2d. to give a fair deal to these 100,000 unfortunate women.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. George Thomas)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain whether he is proposing that all widows, regardless of length of marriage, regardless of age and regardless of family, should automatically be given a pension? I would be interested to know precisely what he is proposing.
§ Mr. Pounder
I was about to point out that at present there is an age entitlement. I want to see that scrapped and my proposal is as simple as that. There are just over 100,000—I believe that the liberal figure is almost 110,000—widows in the category to which I have been referring and I should like to see the age qualification eliminated. Thus, my proposals cover all widows, although widows with small families already receive a pension. However, I am thinking particularly of the childless widow who may have been a housewife for many years whose husband dies and who finds when she tries to secure employment that the opportunities available to her are of the most menial kind.
As an hon. Member who represents one of the regions I naturally welcome the Government's intention to continue to recognise the importance of utilising the full resources of the regions. A fuller use of these resources could make a significant contribution to the achievement of national economic growth without inflation. The regions, of which Northern Ireland is one, with their good basic services and a surplus of good quality labour are not a liability but an asset to the nation. Although an overwhelming part of the cost of services and investments in Northern Ireland is financed 55 from taxation raised in the Province, it is true that valuable support is received from central funds. However, this applies to, for example, the Scottish Highlands and the south-west of England which pay less than their share of the benefits and services which they receive and likewise these benefits represent a greater fiscal contribution than they actually make to the national ecenomy.
Only yesterday a report was published stating that Scotland receives £100 million a year in financial assistance from the central Government. These people correctly regard this as a right and would be deeply resentful if one tried to imply that such financial assistance could be construed as charity. Thus when we speak and criticise stop-go economic type policies we must accept that the way to expand the economy without overheating it is to spread as evenly as possible economic development over the country as a whole. This has never been more relevant than it is in the post devaluation period. The key to economic growth without overheating lies in imaginative regional development.
This is the seventh Gracious Speech that I have heard since my election to this House in 1963. It is the first time that I have seen the words "Northern Ireland" included in the Address. At this critical stage in Ulster's history, there is no doubt that many hon. Members will seek to refer to Northern Ireland in the course of the debate. I beg them to avoid emotionalism of any kind in their speeches. Ulster people are no more belligerent and no more unneighbourly than their fellow citizens in this country. We are caught in the toils of fear and imprisoned by a heavy burden of history. In his report, Lord Cameron acknowledged that fact and recognised that the fear exists on both sides. In my view, it is vital that that should be recognised. The old antagonisms seeded in history were beginning to wane, but the tragic events of recent weeks regrettably have rekindled these suspicions.
Only the Ulster people themselves can unravel this knot of fear. I do not want to sound isolationist or nationalistic, but solutions forced upon them can only store up new resentments for the future.
56 The Gracious Speech makes reference to the Government's efforts to ensure justice. The issue of human rights in any society is a very important one, and so it should be, but the question of loyalty, allegiance and constitutional integrity is also a very big issue. I ask the House to realise that it is no good trying to take attitudes on one side or the other in the current situation in Northern Ireland. Minority grievances have attracted much publicity in recent months, but frequently it is overlooked that the majority also has its rights and justifiable fears.
Of their own volition, the Northern Ireland Government have met the legitimate political demands which have been made of them and, by legislation, that Government are determined to do all that legislation can do. However, something more is needed than Statutes. There must be a revolution of faith. Both communities must move out of their entrenched positions and be prepared for acts of faith and trust.
There is one word in the paragraph in the Gracious Speech relating to Northern Ireland on which I seek guidance. No one in this House or outside it has a greater admiration and respect for the courage and devotion and dedication to duty of the Royal Ulster Constabulary than I. The Gracious Speech says that the Government… will bring forward proposals to facilitate the reorganisation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary …I should like some clarification of that word "facilitate".
I raise the point because I am interested in the R.U.C. and because I am curious to know how the word "facilitate" fits into the context of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, whereby this House devolved responsibility for internal law and order on the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Is the word used in the context of providing training facilities and such like in this country for members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Does it refer to financial assistance in any reorganisation which may be carried out under the Hunt Committee's recommendations?
In recent years, there has been a great deal of talk in this House of the necessity for British standards in Ulster. The phrase has been related to such matters as local government franchise and the 57 appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner. In my view, British standards must also be applied to employment opportunity and economic prosperity. By all means, let us have British standards in Ulster. As a Unionist, I believe that that is what Unionism means. However, if British standards of employment opportunity are to be created in Northern Ireland, this will mean a willingness to allocate national resources to that end. All along, economic issues have had much to do with our troubles and, in this context, it is noteworthy that Northern Ireland has the second highest birthrate of any region of the Kingdom and the lowest percentage of persons leaving employment on attaining retirement age.
In view of that, the need for further financial injection into the economy of Northern Ireland will be of the greatest importance. It ill behoves me to attempt to quantify the financial figure which may be required. I did one or two sums on the back of an envelope and arrived at a very substantial figure. However, it may be that my arithmetic is wrong. Accordingly, I will refrain from commenting on the sort of sum which may be necessary.
I want now to say a few words of thanks to the Government for reiterating so promptly and generously in recent times that they intend to stand by the territorial integrity and constitutional guarantees of Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom. That has been greatly appreciated by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I want to give a special welcome to that sentence in the Gracious Speech which reads:Legislation will be introduced to continue in modified form powers to limit increases in house rents.It will be interesting to hear exactly what that promise involves. I hope that it goes further than the wording of the sentence suggests.
It is not easy to understand the thinking behind the Government's housing policy. I should have thought that now was a good time to reiterate that new council housing must be financed from the rates rather than by increasing rents. A case can be made out for increasing rents to meet extra maintenance costs and repairs. It cannot be made out in terms 58 of new building. After all, new housing benefits the whole community and not just those who live in council houses. It is only right that it should be financed partly by the Government and partly from local rates.
I welcome the Minister's recent letter to local authorities urging them to get on with their housing programmes. I was especially pleased to see his letter to the Greater London Council pointing out that its current housing programme was not achieved in 1968 and is unlikely to be achieved this year and asking it to see that it catches up on its arrears next year. In London as a whole there is a great need to tackle housing problems which have been highlighted by Shelter and which all hon. Members representing London constituencies know to be very real.
There is one very important loophole in the present law concerning rent increases which, I hope, will be closed in the forthcoming legislation. The G.L.C., owning two-thirds of the houses in my constituency, recently has adopted the policy of increasing rents to certain categories of persons by between 70 and 80 per cent. If a house falls vacant, this very large increase is put on the rent, and it is very much greater than that which the Minister has authorised. The Minister turned down the council's latest proposed increase, though he allowed an earlier one. Now the G.L.C. is attempting to get round his ruling by putting forward the whole of its proposed increases so as to apply not only to those moving into new houses but also those taking part in exchanges, and those rehoused in slum clearance schemes, thus making it impossible for needy tenants to improve their living conditions. By its action, the G.L.C. is perpetuating slum conditions by obliging people to pay rents which they cannot afford and putting the whole of their living conditions at a standard which is well below poverty level. I hope that the Government's proposed legislation will close this loophole.
Another point which I hope that the legislation will deal with concerns the tactics being pursued by the Greater London Council against people who have rent arrears. Normally, authorities sue in open court in the first instance. The Greater London Council threatens such people with eviction without first attempting to recover the arrears in open court. 59 That again is a point which should be met in the forthcoming legislation.
I come now to one or two matters which are not included in the Gracious Speech and should have been. The first of them concerns the low wages which are often paid when there is sub-contracting on Government contracts. It is the long-established practice of Government Departments to operate a fair wages clause, and steps are taken to study the wage sheets showing the rates paid to workers employed under such contracts. However, the fact that the Treasury insists rigidly that the lowest tender should be accepted means that when a tender is submitted the Department concerned often overlooks the sub-contracting which takes place on such a contract. If a fair wages clause is to mean anything, it must operate right the way through a Government contract.
There must, therefore, be an examination of wages paid by sub-contractors as well as by contractors. Otherwise, the fair wages clause becomes a nonsense. The Government must insist through all Departments that no tender will be accepted unless the books of contractors and sub-contractors are open for inspection so that one may see whether the fair wages clause operates right the way through.
Now, another matter which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. This grievance has come to my notice in my own constituency, and, although it may not be experienced widely at the moment, it is likely to become more generally felt as the motoring section of the community grows. I refer to the general practice of insurance companies in not paying compensation when an act of God is assumed to have happened. Here is one instance from my constituency. A man set up a small business selling chocolates, cigarettes, newspapers and so on. While he was returning on his bicycle from the afternoon newspaper delivery, a bus lurched across the road, knocked him down, and killed him. It so happened that the driver of the bus had had a blackout. It was ruled that the cause of the accident was an act of God, and the man's family was not entitled to compensation. After a great deal of battling with the Ministry of Transport, with 60 London Transport and so on, I obtained some small grant to my constituent's family as an act of grace, not as a matter of right.
I found out afterwards that there had been similar occurrences elsewhere and several municipal authorities had also made small donations to the persons suffering as a result of such accidents, again as an act of grace and not as a matter of right.
Here is another instance. A friend of mine was driving along when he suddenly saw a car rushing at him from the opposite direction. He swerved aside, but his car was smashed into on the side. It turned out that the driver of the other car had a heart attack and had died at the wheel, and it was ruled that no insurance compensation would be paid for the damage to my friend's car. I am certain that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) would be rightly irritated in such circumstances and would pursue the matter, but that is the law as it stands at present.
It ought to be arranged, by a small increase in insurance premiums, that cover is given in the case of all accidents of that kind. If a man dies at the wheel, no compensation is paid under the present law in such circumstances, whereas if a driver is drunk, knocks someone down and causes a serious accident, compensation is paid. I urge the Minister concerned to pursue this point with the insurance companies.
I am pleased to see from the Queen's Speech that it is proposed to revise the operation of our social services generally, but I am concerned about one aspect in that connection. With a view to unifying our social services, schemes are being prepared, I understand, to cut down the number of offices and centres of administration. I am all in favour of cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy of one sort or another, but I hope that regard will always be had to the need for having points of administration to which people can easily go when they need assistance under our social service arrangements.
We ought not unduly to reduce the number of such points to which people can go. In 1949, when the social services Ministry was first set up, the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member 61 for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) kindly received a delegation from my constituency and, as a result of representations made, he overhauled all the points of public contact in the area. I understand that similar action followed other representations originating elsewhere. I hope that a similar attitude will be adopted in the present context so that, while rationalising or unifying our social services, we retain sufficient convenient points of contact to which people can easily go, without travelling a long distance, in seeking the help which they need.
Having made those comments, I welcome the Gracious Speech and congratulate the Government on the proposals which they have put before us. I hope that they will soon become law.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
I direct attention to one passage in the Gracious Speech:My Government will press forward their policies for attaining a substantial and continuing balance of payments surplus in order to meet our international obligations and rebuild our reserves, achieve a more rapid rate of economic growth, and safeguard employment".I call attention to one narrow aspect of those problems, namely, the measures of achievement used by the Government themselves and the presentation of figures both for their own use and for the country as a whole. In my view, they are characterised by a lack of frankness amounting to deviousness typical of the present Government.
This is not a new theme for me. By Questions—over 25 in all, I think—during the past year, I have endeavoured to elicit something from the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. In asking those Questions, I have not charged, and I do not now charge, that the Government are dishonest. That would, perhaps, be going too far. I would rather use the phrase used by an American friend of mine with reference to an individual when he said, "It would not do to say that he was dishonest. He is just a little off-honest".
I regard that as a correct description of the Government's presentation of figures to the people. They are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, 62 West (Mr. lain Macleod) has pointed out, both accurate and a lie, and, as he said in that speech, Ministers know it perfectly well.
We all welcome the economic improvement which has been achieved in the past few months, even though it is not quite so spectacular as the Government claim. But even if the exceptional performance under a Labour Government does not equal the normal performance under a Tory Government, we must welcome it. The Prime Minister made much today of what progress has been made, but I prefer to go by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that the true measure of the success of a Government and the performance of a country could be found in the current account of the balance of payments.
Let us look at that current account. Taking the years of the first post-war Labour Government as a whole, they succeeded in amassing a deficit of £441 million on current account. The Tory Administration, during their 13 years, had a cumulative surplus on current account of £774 million. The second post-war Labour Government, despite an improvement in recent months, have succeeded in producing a cumulative deficit of £814 million. The average annual performance on current account of Labour Governments has been a deficit of £120 million, compared with an average annual surplus achieved by the country under a Tory Government of £60 million.
It was not this side of the House which referred to the current account as affording the true measure of success of a Government's policies; it was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Even the relative success of the past few months has been achieved at great cost in taxation, deflation, rising prices, devaluation, debt and unemployment. Early in 1969, unemployment stood at 2.2 per cent. Between May and July it rose to 2.5 per cent., and the latest recorded figure was 2.5 per cent., seasonally adjusted to 2.4.
What are the real figures? In 1967 and 1968, there was a surprising fall shown in employment in the spring and a rise in employment in the autumn and winter, seasonally adjusted. The 1969 figures show the same. The recorded figures are 63 571,868, and the adjusted figures are 555,400, the adjustment being downward in the autumn. This indicates that the whole system is suspect. Certainly it is in Whitehall, as was admitted in the Financial Times on 20th June; alternative methods are now being used in the Department of Employment and Productivity.
Why will not the Government publish these alternative methods? Why will they not publish the seasonally adjusted figures under what I hope will be the more accurate method now being started? Why will they not tell us which series they are using in framing their policies? We in Parliament and the country do not know; we do not even know what the Government know, what method the Government are using.
Nor do we know in the realm of economic growth, another phrase used in the Gracious Speech. There are three ways of assessing national income and expenditure and the national product—the expenditure system, the income system and the output system—and they show very different results. The difference between the expenditure and output system at 1963 prices is £1,000 million. Which figures do we believe? Which figures are the Government using? This matters, because the differences are very big, and these are the figures on which the Chancellor seeks to frame parts of his policy. Perhaps the Treasury is just using an arithmetic mean and hoping for the best.
For industrial production it is the same story. The seasonal adjustment gives an entirely different result from the experience of all businessmen, so that the figures become useless to commerce and industry and dangerous in the hands of the Government as a basis of policy. What has happened to the inquiry into these figures that the then Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, now the Minister without Portfolio, started in the old Department of Economic Affairs? Can we not be told about it? It is important that we should be able to measure the rate of industrial production.
In the field of industrial investment the sorry story is even worse. In July this year, that month when we had the spectacular upwards revision of the export figures, we also had a revision upwards of manufacturing investment. The Govern- 64 ment said that in the last three quarters it was in reality much higher than the published figures suggested. But it was only three months later that the figures were revised downwards by a third, from an estimated 7 to 8 per cent. to an estimated 5 per cent., nearly £30 million. Whether we look at the adjusted or unadjusted estimate, it is still obvious that the Board of Trade predictions are being revised downwards again from the forecast made at the start of the year, and even from the forecast made last June. Even now the Board of Trade predictions are on the optimistic side.
In all these figures which the Government use to measure their performance and present their so-called success to the people, which do we believe? We do not know. The Chancellor will not tell us. The Government will not tell us. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to scepticism over their presentation, and was taunted by the Prime Minister. Well might my right hon. Friend and other people be sceptical in the face of discrepancies of this sort, which are admitted by the Government but not explained to the House or the people. Perhaps we can have the explanation during the debate. The Prime Minister suggested that we would have an explanation of some sort. Let us hope that this time it is accurate and true.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the price paid for the balance of payments success in unemployment and overseas debt. He mentioned the figure of £3,000 million of overseas debt. There is some scepticism here, too. The short-term debt is being concealed, no doubt not with any malice, but in the ordinary processes of borrowing under the swap arrangements. What is the truth? What, too, is the extent of the existing borrowing or the plans for future borrowing abroad by local government and nationalised industries, which, whether we like it or not, adds to the burden of Government-guaranteed debt? To what extent are the changes in sterling liabilities accounted for by the increase, which is considerable, in the holdings by central banks of the non-sterling area, and matched by an equivalent decrease in private holdings?
Or to what extent are these changes caused simply by an increase in the swap arrangements, with a concealed increase 65 in the burden of debt? Even the most cautious and friendly estimates suggest that the real debt burden is in the neighbourhood of £2,000 million more than we have been told. Is the short- and medium-term debt really decreasing'? Is it matched, or partially matched, by an increase in longer-term debt?
There is no point in concealing this. After all, our creditors must know. If the Government are borrowing money and seeking to conceal the true state of the nation's position from their creditors, that is a degree of fraud that even I would not impute even to them. Our creditors must know. Why cannot our people? It cannot damage the country abroad to tell the people what the foreign bankers already know, the true extent of our debts. It can only damage the Government's reputation in the eyes of the voters. Perhaps that is why we are not told.
In the matter of export/import figures, we have heard a great deal about missing exports, but the missing imports—£100 million-worth last year—have been forgotten. The Prime Minister made great play with the increase in exports. He said that they have gone up by about 67 per cent., but he left out the facts that after devaluation this, in dollar terms, is 40 per cent. Other developed economies have increased their exports in the same period, 1964 to 1969, by 75 per cent. I agree that the Government have done better on imports. Our increase in exports is about one-third less than the rest of the world's increase, but our increase in imports is rather lower, too. Let us hope that that is not a temporary situation and that it is not at too high a price in the restriction of growth and in unemployment.
May we have an explanation of the double counting in August and Septem, ber? The Board of Trade has concealed £22 million in the small print at the back of the hand-out, turning a total of £66 million into £44 million.
What about the Phantom jets? When the engines are paid for in this country and are returned in the completed aircraft to this country, why should they be counted as exports simply because the engines are put in in America'? That is £60 million which does not really come into the balance of payments.
66 If the Chancellor and the President of the Board of Trade had answered the questions we put to them in the past few months, we would not need to demand the answers now and there would not be the scepticism in the Press and elsewhere about the Government's figures and their presentation. But I must thank the Chancellor for one thing. He has to some extent clarified the extraordinary machinations over the payments for the aeroplanes we are buying from America, by putting an extra column, in Table 1C, I think of the Press release. Reading as far as page 8, where this table is to be found, one can, with a little careful subtraction, isolate the effect of the aircraft transactions.
What does this all add up to? The Prime Minister quoted the monthly figures. Over the past 4½ years there has been a so-called improvement in the monthly trade figures of £3,941 million which is due solely to a change in presentation. In other words, the Government have been able, by skilful publication, to give the man-in-the-street a completely different impression—different by nearly £4,000 million—from what is happening in comparison with the past.
Some of these changes in presentation—such as those based on changes in accounting—are legitimate and will be understood by statisticians and sophisticated economists, who will be careful to compare like with like. Other changes have been made as a result of discovered negligence; and yet others have been made the reasons for which have been hidden away by the Government in footnotes to the Press releases given to the newspapers and radio and television.
The effects of all this on the man who just looks at his newspaper or listens to his radio for the monthly trade figures is that he does not really know what is happening. It is now no longer possible to compare this Government's figures with those published under the Conservatives unless one looks closely at the small print and tries to remember which set of figures to compare with which, or buys a copy of the Board of Trade Journal and does it oneself.
Throughout the 13 years of Conservative rule, many improvements and sophisticated adjustments were made to the trade figures, as happens now. But these 67 earlier adjustments were introduced alongside the real figures and great care was taken to present them to the Press merely as useful variants and explanations for those who wished for detail and who would understand their truer meaning. Right up to the time we left office, the calculation that appeared most prominently in the newspapers was the trade gap—not the so-called trade balance, but the trade gap, and in case I should be challenged on this by hon. Members opposite I have the reports to prove it.
I calculated what the latest figures would look like if they were presented in the way in which they would have been presented under the Conservatives. The Prime Minister made much of my right hon. Friend's performance at the Board of Trade and, leaving aside the dishonesty of quoting odd months and quarters carefully selected and not comparing like with like, I will demonstrate the true picture.
On the Tory basis, the seasonal gap of the trade figures for August, 1969, was minus £33 million, with a plus of £8 million for under-recording and a minus of £15 million for double counting. This would have led to a true trade gap of £40 million. In fact, the figures adjusted, quite sensibly, clearly and rightly, were plus £40 million as a visible trade balance.
I did the same sum for the September trade figures. I found that the seasonal gap was minus £45 million, with plus £5 million for under-recording and minus £20 million for double counting, giving, therefore, a result of minus £60 million, adjusted for the balance of payments to plus £45 million.
The answer is simple. The Conservatives gave the figures and then added the explanation of what they meant in balance of payments terms. This new explanation of what the figures really mean—which I agree is a true and valid one and is needed to discover the effect of our trade on the country's finances—produces a visible trade balance, however, not a trade gap, and the trade gap has been relegated to the back pages and the small print.
Let us look at the situation over the years of the Socialist Government. The effect of these adjustments, legitimate as 68 every one of them is, and properly made, as every one of them is, and clearly defined as they have been, is to improve the effect of the figures. By removing United States aircraft from the trading account, an extra plus of £354 million has been achieved. By adding the unrecorded exports of 1965 to 1968, and of the first quarter of 1969, the Government bring that extra to a total of plus £749 million.
If one cancels the double counting and the over-correction, this reduces the extra to plus £744 million. So, the actual balance of payments effect on our trade is £744 million better over the years of Labour Government than the actual trade figures. This is true and it is right that the Government should make the point. But it is not right that the Government should have presented this figure as the trade gap, because it is not.
By accounting for the trade figures in balance of payments terms, the visible trade balance is, in this method of presenting the figures, £3,197 million better than the trade gap. Thus, we get the total improvement I started with—£3,941 million and that is the measurement by which the effects of the country's performance in our balance of payments is better than the trade figures.
I agree that this is true, but what I think is wrong and deceitful is to present these adjustments to the people as if they were accurate and actual figures—measuring the country's performance. Time and again, I have asked the Chancellor, the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister to get the figures right and to explain what is happening and setting them out more accurately. I hope that we shall get an answer at last, if not today then later in the debate. I hope that it will be both accurate and understandable to ordinary people. If we do not get that answer, it will be scarcely surprising if people come to believe, despite the integrity and accuracy of the figures as far as they go, that Ministers are making an off-honest use of them for political purposes in an election year and that the Government are fiddling the figures as they are fiddling the constituency boundaries.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice 69 Macmillan) because geographically his constituency and mine are poles apart while, politically and in our outlook on current affairs, he and I are personally far apart. I want to speak on the relevance of the Gracious Speech to my constituents and their interests. Being a lawyer, accustomed to call witnesses, I shall call witnesses who are not partisan to the arguments that I shall submit in praise of what I regard as one of the most satisfactory Gracious Speeches I have heard during my 24 years as a Member of this honourable House.
There are three particular aspects of the Gracious Speech that appealed to me. There is the one which deals with developing the resources of all the regions in these islands; there is another which deals with offshore drilling—not of soldiers but for oil in the North Sea. The third deals with merchant shipping, to which I have given particular attention especially as the National Union of Seamen made me an honorary member of their union.
Usually the Gracious Speech is a kind of pinnacle from which Parliamentarians and our great newspapers look down upon the greatness or littleness of politicians and on the hopes or fears of Britain in relation to the rest of the world, for war or peace, for scientific, educational and industrial progress or retrogression. For my part, having been a Member of Parliament for Aberdeen for 24 years, with the largest majority in Scotland, I have naturally concentrated on the interests of Scotland, particularly on Aberdeen itself. For me Aberdeen's shipbuilding, fisheries, granite and communications with Scandinavia, North Germany, Russia and other proximate parts of the world have been an absorbing interest, to such an extent that my constituents, I believe, have begun to call me their Aberdeen kipper.
For these reasons, I have noted sadly over the past years the uneven spread of trade, industry and employment in Scotland, leaving vast tracts in the north inadequately developed and leaving employment unevenly distributed. This inequality has contrasted with the valuable contributions which the Scottish race has made to the world's science, art, invention and productivity and is today making to the modern spheres of Government, finance, industry and international affairs, not only 70 in this island, but even as far away as Canada and Australia.
The enterprise of the Scottish race is well known and it is a sad thing to find that the trade and industry of Scotland are concentrated in and about Edinburgh and Glasgow, leaving vast tracts of that beautiful country undeveloped. That great organ of public opinion—I said that I would call independent witnesses and I am now calling one—The Scotsman, in a leading article recently, said:The use of land is one of the most contentious issues of the day. In the Middle Ages land was a subject of immense litigation because its possession was the key to the social structure and the mark of status. In time, money replaced land as the reward for success. But today land resumes some of its importance because of its scarcity. Particularly in and near our cities, there is a continual battle between the developers and the preservationists.I quote that in order to show the House the particular efforts which the present and the previous Labour Governments have made to negative that emphasis of the influence of land upon our social cosmos.
These historical inequalities I shall not investigate, beyond saying that in Scotland, as in Ireland, they are due largely to the dominance of an ascendancy class which uses Scotland's spectacular beauties, its mountains, lochs and glens, for its own sport and pleasure rather than for the benefit of the indigenous Scots by encouraging Scotland's productive potentialities.
What The Scotsman in the article I have just mentioned calls "bad planning" in past years increased the trend of population south to the more industrialised England and also to Canada, Australia and elsewhere. This domination in Scotland, as in Ireland, by an ascendancy class influenced past Secretaries of State in contrast with today's distinguished Secretary of State, himself a Scot, who has taken active steps to reverse past policy. He now conserves and develops Scotland's potential and actual wealth, her productivity and experts, as I shall show by independent evidence.
This he has done and is doing not only in the tangible sphere of factory products in hitherto neglected areas, but also in the spiritual, moral and intellectual spheres, by the many new universities 71 and schools which have sprung up all over Scotland. This it is only fair to say is due to a determined departure from Tory laissez faire and the outmoded policy of the ascendancy class, but also to the beneficent philosophy of Labour Administrations, led by the present Secretary of State for Scotland along broader, more democratic, more civilised lines.
It is said that comparisons are odious; they can also be instructive and constructive. A vigorous letter—again I call an independent witness—from the London Imperial College of Science and Technology in The Times on 21st October included this:Can anyone point to a time when a geater number of the community were able to lead tolerably satisfying lives, free from the year of poverty, disease and bigotry? Until 30 or 40 years ago these fears were the order of the day….It goes on:If a society is to be called civilised when it actively concerns itself with the well-being of its members then never has there been one as civilised as ours.That is not from a Labour Member of Parliament; that is not from a partisan; that is not from a Labour Minister; that is from an independent scientist in an independent newspaper, that great organ of public opinion, The Times.
The view which I am presenting to the House would not be complete if I did not mention two further aspects and I shall do so briefly and I shall present the evidence for both. One is to calm those over-anxious people who expect Rome to be built in a day, who expect the Labour Government in one or two Parliaments to rectify the wrongs of hundreds of years. The other—the answer is to be found in the leading article in The Times of 22nd October on Willy Brandt's successful election in Germany. The article praised:the technique of little steps to achieve great endswhich, as The Times truly says,is a cautious and constructive policy and has been characteristic of Britain's last five or six years.The Times went on admirably to praise Herr Brandt's record as a Socialist whichagain should make it easier for the Eastern European countries to respond to the beneficent policies of other countries".72 This, again, is true of British policy today in general under the present Prime Minister and in Scotland under the present Secretary of State for Scotland, and that from an independent newspaper.
My next point under this heading is to give some figures indicating the success in Scotland of the present policy. I will not weary the House with too many, but merely give an indication of the facts. New houses completed in Scotland show a steady increase. In 1967 the number was 27,347, in 1968 it was 27,864 and in 1969 29,268. Aberdeen is famous for its shipbuilding, and it is included in this island, and I will give figures for this island as a whole. Merchant ships completed in Britian, including Scotland, in 1967, weighed 287,000 tons, in 1968, 611,000 tons. There is growth for you in the shipbuilding industry which is to the credit of the present policy in Scotland
I will not weary the House with the figures; they can be obtained from the books of statistics in the Library, from which I got them. I have the other figures available if anyone wants to cross examine me. I shall content myself by saying comprehensively now that the spectacular success of the present Prime Minister and the present Secretary of State for Scotland is shown by the number of advance factories, by the advances in agriculture and fisheries by industrial development, training centres, unemployment—
—the reform of land tenure, road building, transport, education, public health works, social work, water systems, rate rebate, law and order, police administration—the figures for all those redound to the credit of the present Administration in Scotland. It is obvious that the policy of the present Government has opened the window through which the people of Scotland look towards an enlightened and progressive future.
It must be a great satisfaction to the citizens of this great country to have authoritative confirmation that in today's irregular march of world events, Britain holds her place in the world. Financially and intellectually, notwithstanding the pessimists on the other side of the House, 73 Britain will march with her brothers and sisters in that fraternity of nations, known to an admiring world as the British Commonwealth of nations, the brotherhood of man, under the Fatherhood of God.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman sits down can he give us some more interesting figures? Can he give us the figures for the houses completed in Great Britain last year and the number to be completed this year, and then explain why that last figure is down?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am sorry that I was not able to hear all that the hon. Gentleman said in his dulcet tones. If he will examine the statistics to be found in the Library he will discover that they support the argument that I have ventured to submit to the House.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will, when he contemplates what he said this afternoon, also consider the proposition that the success of which he speaks has to a very great extent been the product of the work of the people of Scotland, often achieved in spite of Government difficulties as opposed to active Government assistance. He almost gave the impression that the increase in shipbuilding capacity was entirely the work of his hon. and right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. That is self-evidently nonsense.
The advance of which he speaks has been a very great record of achievement by the people of this country themselves. I cannot say that I was disappointed by the Gracious Speech because frankly I did not expect anything very much from it. The Chief Whip was reported as having said that it would meet all the promises to the British people which the Labour Government have not yet kept. I was not even very excited about that. The Government do not seem to have appreciated that if they want a reputation for integrity they must earn it. It is the most difficult thing to earn because people. being what they are, remember the slightest lapse. If they have been generous with nothing else, the Government have at least been generous with their lapses in this field.
74 What concerns me most about the Gracious Speech is its lack of theme, of thought about the policies in it. We are dealing with it as the Government's programme, thought through in a most careful fashion I have no doubt, to meet the problems and needs of our country over the next year, of course. We all know it may not be that at all, that, pending the results on Thursday, it may become no more than the brochure of Labour Party canvassers at an imminent election. In neither rôle does it add anything of real value to the concern and discussions now raging in Britain.
Maybe this does not matter. The real greatness of Britain has always rested safely on the broad shoulders of the British people and as far as I am concerned, it is safe there yet. This Government are by their own definition and policy an interventionist Government. They rely for their success on an image of ceaseless activity. Take the lid off Whitehall now and it will look like an ant-hill. It is all the more disastrous if the thunder and fury signify nothing and the activity even worse.
A great deal is proposed in the Gracious Speech. Let me take as an example the new plan for pensions. We have, broadly speaking, something which works in the occupational pension scheme at present. There may be weaknesses, there are certainly omissions, but they can and are being extended. I was in a factory in my constituency recently and was told that a scheme was being started there. That seemed a brave step to me. Whatever the weaknesses of any particular scheme, they do at least enjoy the trust of those participating in them. Now the Government have come along with a new plan. The present Minister has produced new plans for pensions almost every year for the last 10 years, and each one has proved even more brilliant and impracticable than the last.
If there is no election in the immediate future, this is the scheme we shall be stuck with. I have no more confidence in it than the right hon. Gentleman seems to have had in his previous schemes. This is a personal view. It is possibly unimportant, but it appears likely that the scheme will make the rôle of the private occupational schemes almost impossible —
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)
§ Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
Let us hope that the shake of the head is not true, but omens at the moment are unfavourable.
I am convinced that British people will not, unfortunately, have the same confidence in the administration and safety of their money in a Government scheme as they have in their own schemes. I console myself by the thought that the threat which now hangs over the occupational schemes may be no more valid than that which has hung at different times in this Government's immediate history over the House of Lords and the trade unions.
Concerning Scottish Measures proposed in the Gracious Speech, I have little to say at this point except to make two brief observations. First, I hope that the Measure to modernise the law relating to the construction of highways in Scotland will mean more highways, particularly on the east coast. Secondly, I look forward to Measures on feu duty reforms. I have campaigned against some of the more obvious anomalies in this system for a long time—in particular, multures, which is the ridiculous system of paying moneys to mills which do not exist for grinding corn that they have not got.
Obviously, reform is essential, but it will not be so easy. One aspect which we will have to watch very closely in Scotland is that reforming the present system of feu duties will inevitably raise the cost of land regardless of development.
But to go back to the general future for a moment. The Gracious Speech has been given against a backcloth of vague rumbling unrest in the country. Here and there it is breaking out into open dissent, and the world scene is not much better. Whatever the Western world has produced by way of progress in the last 20 years, it does not appear to have been contentment. But does the Gracious Speech even recognise this position and the need to meet it? I do not believe so.
Last week I heard an ex-Minister of this Government referring, with a certain crispness, to the fact that British Railways 76 did not appear to have given much thought to their rôle in the 1960s in this country. What thought has he and the Government as such given to the British rôle in the 1970s? Have they given any at all, and, if so, where do we find it?
Do we find it in the Gracious Speech? What is the rôle of Britain today in defence, in education, in the social services and in the world? I very much hope that the Government will start spelling that out as the debate continues. There are many different points of view, but there is nothing laid down. There is no certainty even on anything on which to disagree. Instead, we get trade figures and moonshine and a whole heap of Measures, when what we really need is the truth and how every man and woman can play his or her part in making this country secure and the world a better place.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I will pay a compliment to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) by commenting on something that he said. I was interested to hear him say that the Gracious Speech that we have been privileged to hear today did not include any reference to Britain's place in the world. I disagree with him most profoundly. If he reads through the Gracious Speech in detail, some of the matters referred to, particularly on the first page, certainly define a great many of the things that I am proud to see this country doing. If the hon. Gentleman is asking the Government to define a rôle, I hope that that rôle will not be in the jingoistic nonsense phrases we have been accustomed to hearing from the Opposition.
I hope that it will primarily be a European rôle, but maintaining a vast amount of influence in diplomacy, in administration and in all the experience and wisdom that this country has been able to give over the past 200 to 300 years. This is the kind of rôle that I want to see Britain playing. This is the kind of rôle which I am sure the Government wishes to see Britain play—in particular, in the United Nations and in taking steps to securing a complete ban on biological and chemical methods of warfare. That is the kind of rôle that I hope this Government will continue to play. But I hope that they will go one step further by adopting 77 some of the tones and sentiments put forward in the moratorium which took place in the United States on 15th October last.
I am sure that if the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East looks through the Gracious Speech—he will have to look through it carefully; he will not find it in the kind of casual reading he may have given to it—he wil find almost point by point the kind of policies and factors which will be very influential in forming this country's rôle during the 1970s.
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) with some amazement. The only compliment that I can pay to his intelligence is that he delivered his speech to an almost empty House. I cannot help thinking that anybody who got hold of a first-year economics textbook could have come up with the kind of quibbles and holes that he managed to make in the balance of payments. Apparently when the Government have been doing badly on their economic figures, the figures have been right. It is only when the Government are doing a darn sight better on their economic performance that the figures and the basis for drawing up the figures are questioned. If these figures and the basis for drawing them up was so questionable, and has always been so questionable, why did not the Opposition change them when in power? I have been concerned for a long time—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
There is one good reason why there is a great deal of dubiety today which did not exist in the 13 years between 1951 and 1964, namely, the nature of the transactions. For example, there were no large-scale purchases of American aeroplanes in those days applied as contra with Rolls-Royce engines from this country to confuse the balance of payments. For example, there was no borrowing by nationalised industries from foreign countries. All these are sad innovations under a Labour Government and were not present in the days of a Tory Government.
§ Mr. Huckfield
If the hon. Gentleman is giving this Government credit for introducing more detail into the figures, I am grateful to him for those illustrations.
I have been concerned for a long time about the problems of the intermediate areas. I represent a North Warwickshire constituency which has recently been 78 much affected by many industrial changes. Traditionally, Nuneaton has been based upon coal mining and the railways, both industries which, all over the world, are contracting. We have been watching very carefully the progress of the Government's policies towards the intermediate areas. I certainly hope that the Bill referred to in the Gracious Speech will include more measures and more policies for somehow getting down the cost-effectiveness for the development of intermediate areas. The policy now is still too blanket in that those areas scheduled as development areas tend to get all the assistance and those areas outside do not get the amount of more selective assistance that they require. I hope that this Measure will include more selective policies and more cost-effectiveness.
I have also been long concerned in watching a policy which is gradually taking shape in the Government concerning civil air transport. Recently many measures have come forward which have led us to believe that the British Airports Authority and some of the civil aviation authorities will find it very difficult to cope with the vast technological changes which will come about in civil aviation in the next 10 or 20 years. I refer particularly to the onset of the Boeing 747—the jumbo jet. We already know that this aircraft will be in service on certain flights from the end of this year, and certainly in civil service by many commercial airlines by middle of next year. We have also seen the complete and utter chaos and the farcical situation that occurred at Terminal One at London Airport when it was brought into operation early this year.
I only hope that in re-examining our airports and civil aviation policy we shall not witness the same kind of chaotic situation when the first jumbo jet lands at London Airport, because unless we have some kind of reform of policy we shall not have the ground transportation available, together with the terminal facilities, and I wonder whether we have the other passenger handling facilities available for these new technical innovations. I hope that those reforms of policy will form part of the Government's proposal to implement certain recommendations of the Edwards Committee.
79 As I have said, I represent a mining constituency. My constituency has recently been much concerned with various measures, educational and otherwise, set out as part of the 1967 Coal Industry Act. We know at the moment that those powers extend until 1972. We have been told as part of the Gracious Speech that these powers will be extended. I hope they will, because of the various sums of money which have been made available specifically to assist miners. Many of my constituents have found themselves badly in need of some of these provisions. I hope that this assistance will continue.
I also hope that the Minister in charge of introducing the Bill for the continuation of this policy will make himself clear on one aspect of it. I refer to the Ministry at present responsible for opencast mining. This is of great concern to North Warwickshire. We know that until 1972 the Government have said that they will not permit schemes for opencast mining to go ahead where they are in competition with deep-mined coal, except where there are special factors of quality or location. We have never been able to discover what are these special factors of quality or location. Irrespective of that fact, I only hope that the policy of not allowing opencast mining to go ahead where it is not in competition with deep-mined coal will continue as part of the continuation of the powers conferred by the 1967 Act—a continuation that we have been promised. This question deeply concerns many of my constituents and many people in other coal mining constituencies.
I was very pleased to see a reference in the Gracious Speech to a Bill requiring local authorities to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines. I suppose that the kind of secondary education one gets depends on whether one lives in a fairly progressive area. I am sorry to see that my constituency and the County of Warwickshire has just gone over to what it calls a comprehensive proposal involving a sixth form college scheme. I doubt the wisdom of pursuing a comprehensive scheme along those lines.
I am glad that the Bill is being introduced but I hope that it will contain Clauses which will make absolutely necessary, as an intrinsic part of a re- 80 organisation scheme, consultation with parents and teachers. In my constituency a scheme has been agreed to by the most marginal of votes in the local authority. On the basis of that vote a scheme has been put before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and has now been accepted. I regret to say that the interests of the teachers, the parents and the children were never consulted at any stage of the scheme. I hope that the Bill that has been promised will include references to the need for some kind of consultation process, because this is vital in an age when parents and teachers are becoming more and more interested in the quality rather than the quantity of education.
The Gracious Speech also referred to the continuation of some kind of modified power for restraining increases in local authority housing rents. I am glad to see this kind of policy being implemented, because in my constituency the Nuneaton Borough Council has been compelled by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government—as he was then—to give rent-free weeks to council house tenants. I only hope that the powers that the Minister has under Part III of the Prices and Incomes Act will continue to be used to prevent Conservative local authorities from deliberately making profits out of the misery of many council house tenants.
§ Mr. Huckfield
The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) says "Nonsense" because he does not know much about the problems of council house tenants. While we have had Part III we have been able to prevent many local authorities from pursuing some of the 70 per cent. rent increases for which they originally asked on being elected to power. I say firmly that if we are to have that kind of nonsense from hon. Members opposite—the nonsense that says we must have a 70 per cent. rent increase—Part III of the Act must be continued, together with the policy under which my right hon. Friend has been working so far.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am glad to hear somebody from the opposite side of the House taking some kind of interest in this subject. Having said that, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with what I have said about preventing rent increases of 70 per cent.
These are the kinds of things that council house tenants cannot understand. They want to know why local authorities suddenly find it necessary to increase their rents by 70 per cent., as was asked for by the Greater London Council and as many Conservative-controlled local authorities have asked for. It is interesting to note that those same Conservative local authorities have been letting down the building figures in the public sector of housing. Many of these housing authorities have been busy putting up their rents and selling off their council houses while they have sadly neglected the target that the Minister laid down for them.
Finally, this is a subject which defines many of the interstices of Government policy that have long awaited filling. This is the kind of Gracious Speech that deals with important matters—matters like safety and health in factories, the provision of safety and welfare facilities for offshore drilling rigs, the provision of a decent pension scheme, and other small pieces of legislation which have been referred to, such as the legislation to implement Government proposals on the marketing of eggs, the rationalisation grant payable to assist fixed capital investment in agriculture and many tidying up measures which, at the same time, are necessary.
Above all, it is a Gracious Speech that defines the kind of spirit in which I like to see the Government moving forward. Whether there is an election this year, next year or the year after does not matter to me. As long as we can have a continuation of Gracious Speeches of this kind, I shall be very glad.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
I will follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) in two material matters, both of which have 82 been alluded to in previous speeches during this important debate. The first concerns the presentation of statistics in connection with our balance of payments—the monthly figures and the quarterly figures. Of course there will be eternal disputation about the presentation of these figures; this disputation has gone on almost uninterruptedly since the end of the war, when our balance of payments first came under stress.
What is different in this situation, I shall try to demonstrate to the hon. Member for Nuneaton, is that today there are certain large, if not momentous considerations which were not present during the years when the Tories were in office. An example is the purchase of American military aircraft, the Phantoms. This contract runs to about £450 million over about 10 years. That is the net figure of the contract, the total cost of the American military aircraft after deducting the cost of supplying the Rolls-Royce engines from this country, shipping them to the United States, putting them into the airframes, completing the aeroplane and then bringing it back to the United Kingdom.
Of course, with the very large sums of money entailed, the cost of the Rolls-Royce engines as exports, the cost of the completed aeroplanes as imports, it is excessively difficult, on a monthly statement of account, to delineate precisely the correct accounting of these transactions. That is why there is much dubiety in the minds of many hon. Members. I am not entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) in what he said about the balance of payments and the accounting arrangements. Frankly, although most of his figures were culled from Answers to Parliamentary Questions last Session, I found it very difficult to follow his arithmetic, though doubtless I shall do better when I read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow.
But the second momentous consideration is something which the Tories certainly never resorted to, and which I believe is wholly inimical to the interests of this country. Who would have thought, when the Labour Party nationalised industries originally in the late nineteen-forties that they would later prescribe for those publicly-owned concerns carrying a begging bowl around the world to 83 borrow sums of money on capital account to finance modernisation or expansion. That is what those undertakings are doing today. Money is borrowed for the electricity industry, the gas industry, the coal industry and the remainder. But these are supposed to be British nationalised industries.
How are these figures shown in the monthly and quarterly trade returns? An imputation has been made by a Member of this House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has counted the sums of money borrowed into his invisible exports as a credit. I see surprise registered by two Members on the Front Bench opposite. But this imputation has been made and it has never been answered. I will give the hon. Gentleman who expressed surprise the exact reference. The imputation was made in a column in the News of the World by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) a few weeks ago. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport never reads the News of the World, of which 6.7 million are printed weekly which, multiplied by three persons per newspaper, means about 20 million readers of that paper.
The fact is that this imputation was made. Therefore, I am raising the point tonight as a preamble to my speech because I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the President of the Board of Trade is to intervene later in these debates. I hope that he will deal specifically with this matter. I should be grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol North-East (Mr. Dobson) if he would report this matter to the Chancellor. I should like lucid explanations of those two points—the accounting of imports of American military aircraft and the export of Rolls-Royce engines as contra: and, on the second point, the imputation, base or otherwise, that these sums borrowed by nationalised industries are counted to the credit of invisible exports, which seems hard to believe, but which would be a further clouding of the issues on the endless arguments about balance of payments.
I want to say how indigestible and unsatisfactory I found the contents of the Gracious Speech. They are indigestible because there is far too much legislation—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Yes, too much for me and too much for any intelligent human being. The hon. Member for Nuneaton, who has only been in this House for five minutes, does not realise, evidently, that ill-digested legislation frequently requires reformation at a later date. An example is the hundreds of hours which this House spent on the Land Commission Act. We then had to amend it later and then the Finance Act this year had to amend the financial provisions—all due to the original ill-digested legislation.
In this Queen's Speech far too much legislation is forecast. I wish the Gracious Speech had contained about a fifth of the amount of legislation forecast, and of a more constructive character. Hardly anyone in this country is interested in the kind of blurb written into this document. They would be interested—
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I put my copy of the Queen's Speech on the bench and it has gone down beneath the bench and disappeared.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
But it has my notes on it, Sir. I will manage.
It would not be regarded as blurb if it expressed, for example, and in unmistakeable terms, what the overwhelming majority of ordinary men and women require their Government to do for them. I say that this might best be summarised by the following provisions first, a reduction in interest rates, second, a reduction in taxation, third, a reduction in prices, fourth, an increase in savings. I will deal briefly with these four simple but overwhelmingly popular propositions. If I had to speak to 10,000 ordinary men and women in any city of this country today, I would put these four points above all others as the major issues of our day.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton was blowing off a moment ago about Tory councils putting up council house rents. Why are they putting them up? The reason is precisely the same as the grievous complaint that I had in my mail this morning from the Malvern Trades 85 Council—not a Tory body, I would remind hon. Members—that the price of water, since water has been nationalised in Worcestershire, has risen by three-quarters.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I will give way in a moment.
And why has the cost of water risen by three-quarters? I inquired very carefully of the water board and I discovered that for every new venture, every capital account development, of that board, they are having to pay almost 10 per cent. for their capital moneys from the Public Works Loan Board.
Let us go back to those days of the wicked Tory Government, six or seven years ago. The rate then was 5 per cent. For putting up council houses and borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, the rate today is nearly 10 per cent. for a small authority whereas five or six years ago, in the days of a Tory Government, the rate was just over one-half of that. That is why council house rents today are inordinately high.
In the last two or three weeks I have seen notices in the financial columns of newspapers which have been beyond my wildest dreams. I have seen local authorities offering more than 10 per cent. interest for deposits to attract small savers to deposit their money with them—and that is under a Labour Government. For what purposes do the local authorities want the money? For public works in the interests of the local people. Why is this local authority paying more than 10 per cent. for its money? Because money is very scarce and because interest rates are very high, resting on an 8 per cent. bank rate, the highest in our history for the longest period of time of peace.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The hon. Member should be patient. He had a long innings a few moments ago. What I have described about interest rates happened under a Labour Government who promised through their spokesmen, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), not 10 per cent. but 3 per cent. Who is now the fabricator and purveyor of innuendo?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and I shall 86 not allude to the fact that most of the housing authorities to which he referred are in receipt of double the housing subsidy they received when the Tory Party were in power. But I come from Worcestershire and I have spent much more time there than he has, and I can tell him that the water board to which he referred is run by the neighbouring local authorities, most of whom are Conservative-controlled, and that it is not a nationalised concern.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The hon. Member is splitting hairs. These are public authorities, borrowing their money from the Public Works Loan Board. Only a public authority may borrow from the Public Works Loan Board. The current rate of interest from the Public Works Loan Board is almost 10 per cent. I will not split hairs on whether we call this authority nationalised or municipalised. I care not a jot about that. It is publicly owned, and under a Labour Government the cost of its operation is vastly higher than ever it was under a Tory Government. What the people of this country passionately desire, first of all, is a reduction in interest rates, and I regard it as a grievous omission that there is no reference to interest rates in the Gracious Speech.
Secondly, there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to a reduction in prices. Never has inflation hastened so much as it has in recent months. Never have we faced a worse prospect for inflation than in 1970. I reckon that during the 15 months between 1st October, 1969, and 31st December, 1970, retail prices will rise by 3s. in the pound. The rash of strikes and industrial unrest to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred is largely due to that cause. They strike for more and more money all the time, because every time that a rise in wages is given, months in arrear, it has been overtaken by price increases. The Prime Minister alluded to the slow negotiating machinery for wage and salary adjustments. By the time an increase in wages or salaries is granted, prices have overtaken the amount of that wage or salary increase.
I will not waste the time of the House by reading out a long list of increases in retail prices during recent weeks—and hon. Members should notice that I do 87 not say "recent months". I will mention some of the recent increases. The hon. Member for Nuneaton sneers. He always sneers when I hurt him. Like his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), he loves quoting The Times newspaper. The cost of The Times will rise by a penny shortly. The cost of the Radio Times goes up by a penny shortly and the cost of all the other newspapers will go up by a penny shortly. The prices of fruit and vegetables are higher on the retail market this year than ever before. The prices of all groceries move up incessantly and remorselessly week by week and month by month. The cost of clothes, quality for quality, size for size and age for age, has nearly doubled compared with six years ago. I could go on endlessly pointing to these inflationary processes, and the strikes will therefore get worse.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition used one set of figures to mark the increase in the number of industrial stoppages and disturbances. I can give the picture in much simpler and more graphic form. The number of days lost in the first nine months of this year to 30th September I calculate to be about two-and-a-quarter times as great as in an equivalent period in 1963 when the Tories were in office, The hon. Member for Nuneaton is nodding dissent. The silly man is an empty vessel who never understands figures or their purpose. In fact, the figure is two-and-a-quarter times as great as it will be given within 14 days in answer to one of my Parliamentary Questions. I will send a copy to the hon. Member, and then perhaps he will nod assent for a change. It is two-anda-qua rter times as great as in an equivalent period in 1963 when the Tories were in power. That is why the Tories did not need anti-strike legislation. The level of strikes was very much lower than it is today—and yet every Labour candidate on every hustings in Britain in the 1964 election and the 1966 election—and no doubt will in the 1970 election—put across the usual drip that it takes a Labour Government at Westminster to understand organised labour in the factories. Yet there have been more stoppages than ever before in our history. That is to the discredit of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
Naturally the whole House is very interested in the inflationary trends. Has the hon. Member taken into consideration the fact that the nationalised Electricity Board recently announced a reduction in its tariffs and said that it would hold these rates for three months? Does he not feel that the nationalised industry deserves a pat on the back and can he say whether private enterprise will take advantage of this reduction to bring down its prices?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
That was a salutary price reduction. I should think it was the first time electricity reduced its prices since nationalisation. But as the element of cost in respect of electricity in the average manufactured product is 1¼ per cent., or say 3d. in the pound, it does not indicate any great price reduction compared with the great increases that have occurred in other spheres.
The third and most important single consideration is the overwhelming desire of all people in Britain to have their taxes reduced. We have listened to a great deal of swanking from the Chancellor in recent weeks about the improvement in the balance of payments. It would be dismal indeed if they were not greatly improved. They should be far better when one considers that £3,000 million per annum of extra taxation is the measure of the increase clamped on by Labour compared with the halcyon Tory days when taxes were kept within reasonable bounds. Thus, £3,000 million extra taxation annually to get this relatively small surplus on the balance of payments should be seen in its true perspective.
Our people require reduced taxation, and perhaps they will get lasting reductions next April; if the Tories are back in power by then. They are much more interested in that—so that they have more free spending power and more to contribute to reducing prices—than they are in any other single factor.
It is noteworthy that the Chancellor has an estimated surplus of revenue over expenditure of £877 million in the current year. A large part of it should be devoted, at the earliest moment. to reducing income tax and surtax to provide incentives to people to earn more and save more, factors without which the balance of payments cannot continue progressively to improve.
89 Even if we achieve a balance of payments surplus this year—even if we get the astonomical £500 million surplus to which reference has been made—it will still take about seven consecutive years, with a surplus at that continuing level, to pay off the mountainous debts—more than £3,000 million—contracted by hon. Gentlemen opposite in their last five years in office.
These matters should have been alluded to in the Gracious Speech. They would have been alluded to had it been an honest statement of the nation's position. I find the document sadly lacking in factual material and that is why I have drawn attention in such poignant terms to these important matters.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirling-shire)
After that eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) it is difficult for me to sum it up in a sentence. I would only remind him that while he talks of the great tragedy of inflation, without a degree of inflation the standard of living in Britain would be much lower than it is today.
When the hon. Gentleman refers to the amount of taxation drawn in by the Chancellor, he fails to appreciate that more than half of that sum has been ploughed back into private industry by development and other grants so that British industry is made more viable and competitive in world markets.
Certain facets of the Gracious Speech disappoint me, although it is not unlike many other Gracious Speeches and the speeches that have been made by hon. Members are not unlike many of those which we have heard on numerous occasions. Certainly, considerable progress has been, and will continue to be, made in housing, health and education. The problem of the balance of payments must be solved. Prices and incomes must be of the utmost importance. Taxation and budgetary problems and the problem of the Common Market are all items that must be considered by the House from time to time. However, I wish to draw attention to a number of omissions from the Gracious Speech.
Has sufficient thought been given to the future of man between now and the year 2000? What about the future of 90 the nation in these years? Indeed, will we exist in a few decades from now? Apart from saying that the Government will continue to work through the United Nations, there is little in the Gracious Speech about these important topics.
Science is moving ahead so quickly that more is needed than a few words about even the United Nations or the under-developed countries. In this generation we have seen four ages of man comparable to the four ages, including the Ice and Stone Ages, of millions of years past. We have seen the atomic age, the space age, the computer age and we are witnessing the cybernetics age when parts of a body can be transferred to another body, and this is a frightening thought.
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech about what these great new ages have brought in their wake. Scientific man is far ahead of his political counterpart and this is a subject which should be engaging our imagination, rather than some of the trivialities with which we are too often concerned.
To my grandson it is no surprise when a man gets into a space capsule and circles the earth or heads away from it at 20,000 m.p.h. The younger generation accepts these things without the flicker of an eye, without surprise or wonderment. But politically we speak as though we have not moved forward. We continue to score points off each other as though these great scientific steps forward mean nothing. Problems associated with the H-bomb and the possible destruction of the human race should be exercising our minds, but not a word appears in the Gracious Speech on this subject.
There is a reference in the Address to giving assistance to the less developed countries. Do we recognise that there are 3,250 million people on earth and that that number will double in the next 30 years? The problems that that will cause should be exercising our thoughts now. How will we feed these multitudes? Even today thousands of people are dying of starvation.
What contribution is this wealthy country to make? Naturally, we are interested in tax reductions—that is, from our selfish, greedy outlook—but are we not wealthy enough to help the poor to a greater extent and are we not missing 91 a great opportunity, in the little time that is left, to make a substantial contribution towards feeding the hungry?
Is any progress being made to utilise the sea for feeding the hungry multitudes? Are we directing our brains to inventing electronic devices to bring under our control large areas of the sea, and making them fruitful? It seems to me that all that concerns us is pollution of the sea such as we saw only a few weeks ago, when thousands of gulls and other sea birds died on our beaches. Opinions may differ as to the cause of those deaths, but my view is that the cause was man's irresponsibility.
Is sufficient being done to encourage research into the use of food that now goes to waste? I know that a great deal has been done in the utilisation of substances previously looked upon as being unfit for human consumption, but a great deal more requires to be done. The Queen's Speech has no reference to this subject.
How much are the Government contributing, either on our behalf as a nation or through the United Nations, to efforts to get minerals from the sea, through the lack of which we may face starvation in 30 years time? We have no guarantee that the under-developed countries, the sources of our raw material, will be at our beck and call in 30 years' time, and this makes all the more essential efforts to reclaim from the sea minerals that we lack and will never ourselves possess. This is a factor that not only this country, but the other parts of the so-called civilised world must bear in mind. We have no reason to believe that in future the under-developed countries will be prepared to be as generous to us as they have been so far by letting us have those very valuable raw materials without which the nation would perish.
What about the clothing of the multitudes? One has only to go to India and like countries to see dire poverty. What is this great Christian nation, with its high standard of living, doing to tackle that problem? It seems that our chief concern—greedy, selfish people that we are—is with a reduction of taxation. Some of our resources, energy and thoughts should be devoted to devising new methods to clothe those who need clothing?
92 What about the housing of the multitudes? Nothing is being done. We are concerned, naturally, with our own people, yet it should not be beyond the wit of man to produce plastic houses which could be packed into boxes and sent to those countries to be erected there. This could bring comfort to millions of people. They would not need to be four-or five-compartment houses.
There is no suggestion in the Queen's Speech of how our land should be used. The land is our greatest asset, yet it is quickly going to waste because we do not pay enough attention to its conservation. Year in and year out acres and acres are being wasted, with never a voice raised to stem what is the great tragedy of our time. We should be planning the utilisation of the land, first of all, for the production of food.
It is forecast that by the year 2000 there will be 70 million people in this country who will need to be fed. We have a responsibility to plan not only for ourselves, but for those who will come after us. We need land for houses, hospitals and the provision of recreational facilities, but we should not destroy, without grave thought, the important agricultural land on which so many of our people will depend in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) spoke of water supplies and their cost. Do we recognise that even the South of England will require 1 thousand million gallons more water in the year 2000 than it is using now? Such a quantity represents seventy-five times the mean flow of the River Thames. We face a great problem in providing water for our land and for human consumption, let alone providing for the thirsty in other lands. This question must be considered with care, or we shall let down posterity.
What thought is being given to problems of overheating the earth's atmosphere arising from the generation of energy and heat in the community? We do not seem to be concerned about how the various heats so generated may affect the atmosphere and bring about a complete change in the seasons, and even affect the production of our food. We see aeroplanes leaving little clouds behind them. The build-up of that pollution may affect the atmosphere. We should be 93 considering the problem and finding out whether the generation of heat by atomic and other means, and by satellites, will alter the whole pattern of what we have become accustomed to. These great problems must be solved somehow, yet no mention is made of them in the Gracious Speech.
The proper use of leisure is another problem that affects our so-called civilised world more than the rest. People are not trained to use their leisure: is that the fault of the past educational system, and will the new comprehensive system help? I have doubts, because we ourselves are not concerned with the great need to teach individuals to utilise their leisure to the greatest possible extent.
In this country there is a present and desperate need for a national director of the future. There is also need for collaboration with an international commission to study and prepare a plan of the future needs of mankind and to advise on present and future trends of humanity. Most political and industrial thought of today is the by-product of out-dated notions and beliefs based on a conception of society very relevant 50 years ago, but out of date by a million years today. We talk as though we were living 50 years ago and had learned nothing from the passage of time.
Politically, we are not looking at the problems of the day with the vast panoramic knowledge of the scientist. We are too small-minded. Our only concern here is our own personal advancement to a Government post, or the like, rather than focusing our minds on the problems that matter.
I believe that two commissions are essential, though it is difficult to see how they could be composed. There should be a national commission and there should be an international commission, composed of men and women capable of original thought, prepared to look at what the scientists are doing, and prepared to focus their minds on the future and not always to be hidebound and looking to the past.
Many may say that such a proposal seems ridiculous and others may say that it serves no serious purpose, but to make that approach would be to bury our heads in the sand and would be an error of the greatest magnitude. In the eyes of 94 posterity we would stand condemned. We have a great opportunity in this Parliament although we do not know how long it will last nor who among us will be here after the General Election to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Gracious Speech leaves very much to be desired. We play with words and small things rather than having a broader concept. I am reminded of what the great Greek philosopher Demosthenes said:Oh ye men of Athens. If I tell you a silly story about an ass, how you press about me!…But if I tell you of the dangers which beset our country, you pay no heed."
The dangers which beset our country are many and varied. The Gracious Speech will satisfy a little immediate wants, but it does not reach into the future to give our people hope that we and they will be in existence by the year 2000.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I hope that the wise British people will see this Gracious Speech for what so much of it is, another dose of Socialist deception. The shop window may look pretty, but many of the goods are rotten.
I am tempted to follow the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) in the interesting points he made, but I do not want to detain even this thinly attended House too long. I will refer to three matters in the Gracious Speech which I strongly criticise and a fourth in which I broadly support what the Government propose to do.
First, I want to say a word about education. Before coming to the Government's proposals, I hope that it is in order warmly to welcome my party's new leading spokesman on education—my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and to pay tribute to her predecessor my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle). For many years he has dedicated himself to the cause of British education. He has won very wide respect for his expertise, his courage and his honesty.
§ Mr. Lane
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's desire now to get right down into 95 the arena himself, but we shall greatly miss him in our education debates and British political life will be the poorer for the loss of a statesman of his calibre.
Anyone looking honestly at the educational scene today must conclude that the Government are surrendering to doctrinaire pressures. I have always felt that so far as possible education should be shielded from the most acute form of party controversy. If we cannot now avoid this, the responsibility is that of the Government.
The Government will be guilty of deceiving the country if they allege that anyone opposing their Bill—the Prime Minister was hinting at this this afternoon—wants to perpetuate the 11-plus. The 11-plus has very few last-ditch defenders, and I certainly am not one. In many areas it has already been done away with and in others it has been considerably modified. It is ludicrous for the Government to argue—if they do—that the only alternative to full-blooded 11-plus is total abolition of selection, for in between there are a number of possible solutions which are being tried by various authorities. I regret very much that the Government have seen fit to apply coercion at this stage.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, stressed the importance of consultation with parents and teachers. It is my impression that many parents and many people in the education service—teachers and others—are content for the country to move gradually in a comprehensive direction, but the majority are dead against the pace being forced and a uniform pattern imposed from the centre, especially at a time when resources are not available for the job to be done properly.
This Government, who are always boasting of their priorities, are getting their priorities all wrong here. There are many more pressing problems in education today, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Let us concentrate on putting right what is wrong in the teaching profession. Let us concentrate on improving primary schools. If the Government persist with their comprehensive obsession there is a real risk of lowering and not raising 96 educational standards. Then the children above all, will suffer.
Secondly, I hope that it will be clear to the country that the proposals in the Gracious Speech for reorganising the gas industry are yet another instalment of nationalisation. I again accuse the Government, in at least part of this legislation, of putting doctrine before common sense. The Gas Council, we are told, is to be authorised to extend its activities in exploration for oil as well as gas, and the Government have decreed that application licences for exploration in the Irish Sea will be considered only if the Gas Council or the National Coal Board is involved. This policy is objectionable because it will commit scarce public resources in what, by nature is a risky business, because by its restrictive provisions it could discourage would-be explorers, and because it may set precedents which could prove an embarrassment to United Kingdom oil companies in their operations overseas. I will dwell for a few minutes on a fourth very topical objection to the Government's proposed legislation—that it would put an unnecessary extra responsibility on the Gas Council when the council has quite enough already to do and when it ought to be left to concentrate entirely on the major task of conversion to natural gas.
In my constituency gas conversion has been the main happening of 1969. Management and men in the industry have tried to do their best in difficult circumstances. I believe that on the whole complaints have been dealt with carefully and sympathetically. Yet the fact remains that this operation has left a disturbingly large number of dissatisfied customers. Some people have had to wait too long for spare parts; some find natural gas difficult to use. Many are unconvinced that they will benefit by having lower gas bills, while others suspect precisely the opposite, and a few have actually changed to electricity.
In my view, the Gas Council set itself much too ambitious a pace for conversion in the early stages. I appreciate that in a sense Cambridge has been a "guinea-pig", but that is little comfort to those of my constituents who have suffered. I hope that the lessons learned from our experience will mean that the later stages elsewhere in the country will go more smoothly, but I do not believe 97 that the Government or the Gas Council are yet taking the problem seriously enough. Unless they can be sure of achieving a higher level of consumer satisfaction they would be wise to phase the operation more slowly, at least for the next year or two. That is why the Government are very ill-advised at this point to put fresh tasks on the Gas Council that may in any way distract it from making a success of this major job on which it will be engaged through most of the 1970s.
My third criticism is on something scarcely mentioned in the Gracious Speech, the question of defence. I feel alarmed that the Government are now positively gloating at the way in which they have reduced the defence capability of the country. They seem to think that they can indulge in an endless succession of cut-back, closure, amalgamation and withdrawal and still take for granted the services of devoted men and women in the Armed Forces at whatever level of numbers happens to suit the Government's books. That is no way to run the defence of the country nor to discharge commitments to our allies.
The run-down, I believe, has now reached danger point. I appeal to the Government—although with not much hope that they will listen—to do more to talk up the Services, to stabilise the Services at a reasonable level of manpower well above the danger point, and to give higher priority to defence among our various national imperatives.
I come, finally, to the one matter on which I am broadly in agreement with what the Government are suggesting. I welcome the statement that the Government propose to maintain our application to join the Common Market. It is clear that there is no longer a majority in Britain in favour of our joining. Equally, I think that there is no firm majority against. My experience from talking about this to many people inside and outside my constituency during the Recess is that it is by far and away the biggest issue in people's minds at present, but that most people are suspending judgment until they know more about the facts and the arguments and until it is clearer what changes are happening within the Common Market.
Because of this uncertainty in the minds of so many millions of people outside the 98 House and in the minds of so many hon. Members, I hope that the Government will pursue with the greatest urgency the fresh assessment that they have set in train and will publicise the conclusions as widely as possible. They should also consider how best the House can make a constructive contribution to the debate. After all, this is an historic issue for Britain. The ordinary opportunities of debate and of Question Time are not sufficient. I press on the Leader of the House a suggestion which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) and one or two others of us made just before the end of last Session, that within the next few months a special Select Committee should be set up to deal solely with our application to join.
The opponents of our entry into Europe are very vocal in the House, Mr. Speaker. They always seem to catch your eye at Question Time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from any insinuation in what he has just said.
§ Mr. Lane
I withdraw any insinuation, Mr. Speaker. I just commenting on what appeared to be the frequency of their interventions; I have no doubt that the fault is on the part of those who have a different view and who perhaps should be here more often. Unless the assessment produces unexpected conclusions, I remain in favour of our entry. I believe that the Government are right to press ahead with negotiations once there is an obvious and equal willingness within the Six.
I do not minimise the difficulties, but I believe that Britain is in danger of paying too much attention to the disadvantages and too little to the opportunities. Economically, I still think that Britain has a better chance of growing faster if we are in the main stream of an expanding Europe than if we stay excluded in what may become a relative backwater. Politically, we have much to contribute and much to gain, though here again I do not minimise the problems.
As to defence, closer unity should lead to a better balance in the Atlantic Alliance, in which at present America has too much of the burden and too much of the power. Looking more widely at the 99 great world problems, not only of today but for the rest of the century, I hope that we shall not leave them purely to America and Russia to settle. The influence and experience of European nations should also be brought to bear, but the more these nations can speak with a united voice the more effective that will be. I believe that the Common Market will prove the foundation on which a closer European unity can be built and that British participation in a leading rôle will be highly desirable.
At least, when the history of our times comes to be written, I hope it will not be said that Britain opted out of a great enterprise through exaggerated fears about the price of butter.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I greatly enjoyed the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling-shire (Mr. W. Baxter), which was directed as much as anything else to persuading us to turn our minds away from what seemed to be major preoccupations with ourselves, such as promises of reduced taxation, and concentrating them on questions such as our contribution to under-developed nations and conserving for our people some of the things which we are in danger of losing.
The Gracious Speech refers to many things which will cause great controversy in the coming months. On the question of education, the other day I was talking to a man who has charge of one of the educational districts into which Lancashire is sub-divided. My constituency is covered by three divisional education officers. One of them is responsible for three towns out of the seven, one is responsible for two, and the other is responsible for the other two.
In my constituency there are grave discrepancies as to the percentage of pupils who qualify to receive a grammar school education. Apart from Skelmersdale New Town, we do not have a proper purpose-built comprehensive school. The one in Skelmersdale is a great joy and delight to those who, like myself, though not committed irrevocably to the principle of comprehensive education, cannot see a system which offers anything better. I believe that people should not make up their minds finally and say that compre- 100 hensive education is the only system for all time.
The grave discrepancy amongst the pupils who can qualify to receive grammar school education is a matter of great concern to many hon. Members and to many local people, including those who sit on education committees. The Government refer to the question of help for intermediate areas, but I hope that they will look a little more closely at the question of areas like mine, which fall neither into a development area nor into an intermediate area, but which, nevertheless, are socially deprived and have a bad history of industrial dereliction.
This social deprivation in a couple of the townships of the seven which I am proud to represent is reflected in the small number of pupils who qualify to receive a grammar school education. Even if the most magnificent purpose-built comprehensive school ever to be designed were to be erected tomorrow in my area, unless some of the other problems were solved that school would be of no avail. All educationists agree that in an area which is socially derelict and which does not have the good fortune of having private housing, which gives that necessary balance to an area the occupants of whom contribute such a great deal of energy to getting the best out of the system and making it better, there is not the same awareness on the part of parents. It is sometimes quite a job to educate the parents in the discipline of instilling into the children the desirability of widening the mind as well as nourishing the body. If we do not have this balance the result is that we get these kinds of poor figures.
The Gracious Speech refers to "Other measures" and I hope that some of these will take a wider look at areas which are neither development areas nor intermediate areas, and will tackle the problem of dereliction. In this House too often we hear the cliché that the nation's greatest asset is its children. That is so, and to waste that asset is a crime. We should tackle that matter in a positive manner. We must devote more research into educating the parents of the children, not merely providing them with clothes as we do as a result of the efforts of the social welfare officers attached to schools, but giving them the other facilities which will generate in their minds a hunger to be educated and to acquire the discipline 101 to be educated a desire to be even better citizens. I hope that the Government will expound a little on this question of help in the intermediate areas and will also consider the problem of areas which are neither one nor the other.
As a mining Member of Parliament, I welcome the mention in the Gracious Speech of help for the coal industry. I sit on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Our report has not yet been published, so I will not mention its contents, but certainly, when we have questioned various people in connection with the coal industry, we have all been very conscious that the aid should not simply be turned off in 1971, as is provided for in the present legislation. In the interests of the nation and of the coal industry, including the men who work in it, we must provide a form of aid which will help them to get over the experiences which they have had in the past, are having now and look like having in the future.
I want now to say a word on a matter which has not completely faded from the headlines or from the television screen, but which has simmered down a little. I refer to Northern Ireland. One thing about which I am particularly delighted is that we can now discuss Northern Ireland openly and freely in this House. When I first came to the House there was a convention which prevented this. I think that you, Mr. Speaker, appreciate the problem then for anyone who, like myself, wanted to focus attention on some of the matters which were creating friction and which eventually helped to ignite and to explode the situation in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Government will be resolute in implementing what is stated in the Gracious Speech and which I understand to mean, following the Prime Minister's speech today, that we are not going to have second-class citizens in the United Kingdom. If those proposals are implemented I believe that there will be happiness, harmony and a better understanding in Northern Ireland.
I know that there has been a bit of a backlash, but I think that it will die away. I believe that by taking away the paramilitary rôle from the R.U.C. and by giving the B Specials a sensible rôle, as special constables or special auxiliaries—because it seems that they are to be split 102 two ways—we shall create in the Province the kind of situation which can lead not only to harmony but to a better and lasting relationship. I do not think that we should be so naive as to think that we can sweep away all the feelings of bitterness and misunderstanding, which will probably continue within the communities for some time, but I hope that we shall hear a lot less, particularly from the other side of the House, which represents the Unionists, about the idea of the Catholics—I am a Catholic— "somehow making a gesture", as the saying goes.
If I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye when we debate those Measures I shall say what I am going to say now, but in greater detail. I want to hear the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland saying that his is a country for all the people and not merely a country in which the Catholics are told, "You are second-class citizens". I want to hear the Prime Minister say not that his is a Protestant Parliament for Protestant people, but a Parliament for all the people. Such statements have been made several times by prominent politicians on the Unionist side. We want less of that. We want a positive statement to the contrary, that all people should par ticipate. That kind of statement, coupled with the new proposals, will produce an atmosphere of better understanding, and then, no longer will Northern Ireland be considered our political slum.
I come to the question of the new administration of the Health Service, which is referred to in the Gracious Speech. I have already mentioned some of the education problems in certain parts of my constituency. There is another problem, and it concerns the new town of Skelmersdale. I refer to the shortage of doctors there to serve the people whom this and the previous Government willed to go into the new town from the north Merseyside area. I believe that the Government should encourage people to do certain jobs by giving them extra "perks". We already do that in education, particularly in areas which are socially deprived. Five of the 25 schools in the whole of the Lancashire County Council area which qualify to receive this kind of payment are in my constituency, and they are all in this area 103 which has this bad record of grammar school places.
If we give a grant to encourage teachers to teach in socially deprived areas, surely it follows that we can give a grant to encourage doctors to go to a new town where there are problems but where, generally speaking, the facilities are and should be much better. Until doctors can get established over a period of years we should give them a cash encouragement and every other kind of encouragement that we can devise. I have spoken to doctors who cannot take any more patients for fear of neglecting the patients they already have, and they would have no objection to my proposal because it would take some of the pressure off them.
In this matter of the reorganisation of the administration of the Health Service, consideration should be given to these sorts of problems. It is not a problem peculiar to Skelmersdale. I believe that all new towns experience it. It is as big a problem in Lancashire and Durham—in fact, in the northern parts of the country as a whole—as it is in the rest of the country. Attracting doctors is a big problem; attracting them to a new town is an even bigger problem. I hope that the Government will encourage doctors to go in. We cannot draft them in a free society—that would not be good for them or the patients anyway—but we should be able to do it in the way that we give encouragement to teachers.
Most hon. Members are being inundated with letters from bodies like trade unions which fear that the Government will "pinch" their right to the pensions for which they have paid. Everybody tackles this in his own way. I have sent them copies of the statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services, but people still fear that some jiggery-pokery is going on. I hope that the Government will not use the pension funds which belong to these people. There must be a way to do it so as to reassure these people that the Government's intentions are honourable. That is what I am telling them. These people wonder whether we are going to "work a flanker" on them, to use a pit term.
As I have said in pensions debates before, millions of men and women work their whole lifetimes and then have to 104 rely on the Government's scheme. Other people get their occupational pensions not through any great merit, but simply through being fortunate enough to belong to a profession or work in local government. I want everybody to get such a pension eventually.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
It is a great pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) because I had the privilege of fighting and losing that constituency against his predecessor. It was particularly interesting to hear him describe the conditions in that part of his constituency about which he was worried and which I saw. There was a great deal of common sense in what he said.
I was impressed by his saying that he was not a bigot about comprehensive education, that it might not be the complete answer. I agree. I have always said that there is a place for comprehensive schools. I have been a member of a local authority which set up such schools. What I have always doubted was the pace at which we are moving and whether there was enough money to maintain that pace and get good comprehensive schools. An awful lot of money is needed to set one up.
I and many of my hon. Friends have been disturbed by the lack of resources to put a proper comprehensive scheme into effect, so it is with grave misgivings that I view the proposal in the Gracious Speech to introduce a Bill to make local authorities put forward schemes. This is also of great constitutional significance. What sanction will be applied if a local authority refuses? Will this House pass legislation to tell a local authority, "Unless you do this, you will be pun ished."? What sort of punishment is envisaged to make a local authority obey the wishes of the central government? Would it he to take away its charter or to install a Parliamentary Commissioner to prepare a scheme? It is all right saying that they shall prepare a scheme, but if they refuse, will we lock up the lord mayor or the chairman of the council? Will we withhold money so that the council cannot build schools? These are practical points which will have to be met.
What worries me is that this is part of a disturbing movement towards centralisation of power in Whitehall, which 105 should disturb every hon. Member. On the one hand, the Government say, "We want a more effective local Government, more independent of Whitehall". This is implicit in the Maud proposals. Yet there is at the same time a tendency to interfere. Any political party in power often finds that the local authorities are under the control of a different party, following different policies and political philosophies. But whichever party is in power must say, "We may disagree with what these people are doing, but it is not right for Parliament to interfere".
If Parliament is going to interfere and press its will on local authorities, as this Government intend, talk of a really good reform of local government is so much cant. It would be a black day indeed if this House tried to impress its will on local authorities. A Minister at the Labour Party conference said that it was intolerable that one local authority should have a different system from the rest. What is intolerable about that? What is intolerable about variety? This is dangerous—setting up a pattern at the centre and insisting that everyone follow it. In that way, we shall get a dull and depressing country with one moral for everybody. We want variety, in education above all, because it can lead us into new paths, as it has done throughout our history. I view this part of the Gracious Speech with grave reservations because of these constitutional dangers.
Turning to matters affecting my constituency, I welcome the legislation to improve the safety of fishermen. From the Holland Martin Report we know that certain measures have to be taken, and I hope that this legislation will be brought forward as early as possible. Our fishermen will never be out of danger because of the nature of their calling, but it is the duty of this House, so far as possible, to see that they are protected from the perils of the sea and become part of a viable industry which can afford the best safety measures.
Another paragraph in the Speech of interest to that industry refers to new measures for the reorganisation of ports. Our fish docks, in England at any rate, are the Cinderellas of all our docks. Our facilities do not compare with ports abroad. This means that, when landed, our fish is not getting the sort of treat 106 ment it should have. I hope that the Government will not merely brush the fishing docks on one side when it comes to port reorganisation. We need efficiency there even if only to save money on imported fish. We import far too much foreign fish.
One very important matter which does not figure in the Gracious Speech is housing, with which I have particular concern both in this House and outside it. From my experience as a solicitor dealing with house transactions, I feel that we are running into a very difficult period. For example, I am getting many more requests in one of the towns of my constituency, Fleetwood, for council houses than I have ever had during my time in this House, which has been short enough indeed. The housing manager has told me that, because the Government have had to cut down the money available for corporation mortgages—which, in the town, were used for lending on older houses which building societies would not do—people who would otherwise have bought their own houses have had to go on the council house waiting list.
Another aspect is that builders are cutting production because houses getting up to roof level are not selling, and they cannot afford to have capital locked up in unsold houses. Ten houses at about £3,000 or more each standing empty represent a lot of money in tied up capital. I have said many times before, and I repeat, that one of the great things that prevents the solving of the housing problem is the party political battle about it. Mr. Winston Churchill has written an interesting series of articles in The Times setting out clearly the problems, including that of decaying houses, although I hope that the Housing Act, 1969, will do something about that.
What we are lacking because of the political strife is a sizeable amount of private capital being provided for the building of houses to rent. We can get private capital for building for owner-occupation, for offices and for factories but what we cannot do, although we badly need it, is to get capital for building houses to rent.
Although I disagreed with so much of the Rent Act, I think that the fair rents system has probably provided a bridge which can perhaps close the gap 107 between the two sides of the House on this issue. If we could use that system to guarantee to those who put their money into housing for rent that they would get a fair return and would not be made political pawns, we might get the capital. We all know that the bottom of the public purse is in sight. We just cannot get enough public money for public housing. I hope that perhaps in some way we can come closer together on this matter because it would do more practical good than any other debates about housing. We should be able to get an agreed policy which would protect private interests coming into housing.
Another matter not included in the Gracious Speech but which should have been, as my right hon. Friend said, is the question of constituency boundaries. I have referred to the increasing interference from the centre and have stated that it causes great constitutional problems. The way in which the Government have handled the Parliamentary boundaries issue raises many great constitutional problems as well.
Hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), have argued in effect that there is an in-built imbalance in the system which tips the scale against the Labour Party and therefore we should disregard the Boundary Commissions because that, in a rough sense, puts the matter right. That is a dangerous line. If one goes on to develop, as the hon. Member did, the theory of the omnipotence of the House of Commons, we are getting to a stage of great danger. If this House is omnipotent and, as some would have it, single-Chamber Government is omnipotent, then we are going to need a new Bill of Rights to protect the people's rights, to define more clearly what a citizen's rights are and what his rights as a voter are. If we are to have omnipotence here in this House, we should have some counter-balance to it.
I had always believed that one of the glories of our constitution was that it need not be written. By what I see happening and by the arguments I have heard here, I am being driven to believe that this is no longer one of the glories of the constitution but a constant danger and that we have no real protection against the omnipotence of this House. 108 It is with that in mind and with grave doubts and forebodings about the future that I see the Gracious Speech. It will not inspire the British people to greater effort. There is nothing in it which will lift the burdens from their back. I believe that, in the country, it will be considered a disappointing speech, to some extent a complacent speech—and complacency is the last thing this country needs at the moment.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I disagree with the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). I do not think that the Gracious Speech is complacent. It certainly does not glitter with jewels. It is quite a prosaic document. But it contains many important proposals for further improvements in our national life.
I was particularly pleased to see the reference in the Gracious Speech to the United Nations:With the coming 25th Anniversary year of the United Nations, My Government reaffirm their support for the efforts to ensure peace and to assist the advancement of less developed countries.We can all remember, particularly those of us on this side of the House, the rather cynical way in which the right hon. and hon. Members opposite regarded the United Nations, particularly towards the end of their period of office.
With all its imperfections, the United Nations remains the greatest hope for peace in the world and for the general improvement of mankind. We on this side have shown the importance we attach to the organisation by despatching to it a Minister of the Crown, and in many other ways.
The Gracious Speech refers to the situation in the Middle East. It says that the Government… will pursue their work through the United Nations for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and towards an international agreement on tariff preferences for the developing countries.It is the reference to the Middle East with which I am particularly concerned, because it seems to me, notwithstanding what people say about the situation in China, that the Middle East is the most dangerous area in the world—an area in which war could break out again almost at any moment. I believe that the great Powers—by which I mean the 109 United States, Soviet Russia and the United Kingdom—should exert far more pressure upon the Arab countries to get them to sit down with their Israeli neighbours to try to hammer out a system of working together.
From my visit to Israel and my talks with Israeli statesmen I am convinced that the Israelis have a genuine desire to work in harmony with the Arab nations. One of the lasting memories of my visit there is of the professional enthusiasm shown by scientists and other academics for the challenge of dealing with the desert. It was not a vainglorious enthusiasm. They were not suggesting that they should take it over as though they were modern Romans showing how a civilisation should work. It was a genuine desire to be given the chance to use their talents and knowledge, for the advantage of the underdeveloped peoples of the area. They were willing to put all their expertise at the hand of the Arab countries.
It was with some sense of sadness that they saw that the Arabs had turned away from those overtures and had spurned the hand of friendship. I hope that some efforts can be made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with the Arab nations to convince them that they have nothing to fear from the Israelis and that all the Israelis genuinely desire is peace.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be very careful in his dealings with the regime in Iraq, which appears to be extremely irrational. It was recently reported that the Iraqis had asked Her Majesty's Government to sanction a contract which would have given them arms. It would be very dangerous if arms were sent to their country which is ruled by leaders who appear to want to quarrel with all their neighbours and to hang large numbers of their own people.
It is difficult for the Government to put certain sorts of pressures on a regime like that, but we must all be horrified by the outrageous and uncivilised manner in which the Iraqi régime has dealt with its Jewish and Christian minorities. I understand that the Israelis are prepared to find a home in their country for the Jewish members of the Iraqi population who seek to leave Iraq because of the oppression there, but that the Iraqi authorities have refused permission. This seems 110 completely contrary to all the professions included in the United Nations Charter and contrary to the ideal in this country, and elsewhere, of human rights. I hope that my right hon. Friend will seize every opportunity at the United Nations and elsewhere to help these oppressed people in Iraq.
One of the aspects of the Gracious Speech about which I am not so happy is that dealing with proposals for negotiations to enter the European Economic Community. Entry on the present terms would result in a quite unacceptable increase in the cost of living which in turn would put up the unit costs of production and make it much more difficult for us to sell our products around the world. As a great trading nation, we would find this disastrous—and I do not think that that is putting it too highly.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will curb their enthusiasm for these proposals. It should certainly be possible to achieve better trading relationships with the nations of the Common Market—although heaven knows that we are improving those relationships as it is—without having to subscribe to the Treaty of Rome, which is surely one of the strangest documents ever to have been drawn up.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) referred to the price of butter and did not seem to think that it was important. It may well be that housewives in Cambridge cannot tell the difference between Stork margarine and butter, but that is certainly not the case in the Harrow, East constituency. In a recent letter which I had from housewives in Vancouver Road, in the South Stanmore ward of my constituency, their support for my view on this issue was made satisfyingly clear. They said that they did not know what the Prime Minister was up to in pursuing this policy. They are alarmed as are most housewives by the prospect of entering the European Economic Community and seeing their bills go sky-high—the bills not only for butter, but for meat and other household products.
There is no harm in talking with the Common Market countries, but I hope that my right hon. Friends will keep the safeguards very much in mind. We certainly want all the co-operation possible 111 with the nations of Europe and with other nations, but I see no reason why, to achieve that, it is necessary to join a ramshackle organisation and for the House of Commons to be dictated to by a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels.
I welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech to introduce a Bill on equal pay. This is yet another move by the Government to bring this nation more into the 20th century. I hope that this will tend to alter the whole climate of thinking in industry and in our national life. I hope that as a result we shall have more women engineers and more women bus drivers, whatever some Neolithic people in the Transport and General Workers' Union may think about that. Why should we not have women taxi-drivers? There are women taxi-drivers in Paris, but I have never seen one in this country.
§ Mr. McGuire
Will my hon. Friend tell us whether the quid pro quo for equal pay for women would be pensions for men at 60 and widowers' pensions?
§ Mr. Roebuck
Perhaps we may go into that when my right hon. Friend's proposals on superannuation are put before the House.
I see no reason why, if we had equal pay, we should perpetuate the present difference in arrangements for the ages at which people retire. I can see no case for pensions for widowers, although some may require assistance if they are left with very young children. However, a Bill for equal pay would let some 20th century air into some of our archaic institutions. It would be another step to make us a more grown-up and sensible society.
Living as I do in an area which has a reactionary Conservative council which has persistently refused to produce a viable scheme for the reorganisation of education along comprehensive lines, I greatly welcome the proposed Bill on comprehensive education. Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that this is a matter which should be left to the discretion of local authorities. Some of them have elevated it not merely to a constitutional principle, but to a moral principle, doing so by some strange working of their imaginations.
112 There is no substance in their contention. The House lays down firm guidance for local councils on many issues—sanitation, roads and other things. The whole history of public education owes much to the steps taken by hon. Members in the period towards the end of the last century. Had the House not made certain rules about the need for local authorities to provide education, there would have been many areas where there would have been none. We do not leave to local authorities the fixing of the school-leaving age, or the age at which children should go to school. Therefore, I cannot see how a principle of constitutional magnitude is involved in the Measure.
When I occasionally read the utterances of some Conservative councillors, I wonder whether they would bother with any schools at all if we did not have legislation for education. They would probably want to "flog off" the schools in the same way as some of them are "flogging off" the council houses. They would probably sell them to some hon. Members opposite who are interested in gambling syndicates and the like.
This is a matter that vitally affects the future of our country, and it is therefore appropriate for the House to legislate on it. If we do not, there will be areas such as Harrow—very few, I concede—which do not have comprehensive education, and the children there will be at a considerable disadvantage compared with children from other areas with a much more enlightened education policy
I was rather disappointed that there was no mention in the Gracious Speech of decimal coinage. In view of the outcry during the past week or two about the introduction of the 50p piece, my right hon. Friends might have had a proposal for easing the transition to decimal currency. I have had a large number of letters, not only from my constituents but from people throughout the country, complaining that it is almost impossible to distinguish the 50p piece from the 10p piece.
They are upset about that, and want a change, but what has annoyed them most has been the arrogant attitude of the Decimal Currency Board to their very proper representations. The board has said, "You are quite wrong. It is easy 113 to tell the difference." One spokesman even went so far as to say, "It must be easy, because we have the assurance of the Unit of Applied Psychology at Cambridge University on that."
§ Mr. Roebuck
As my hon. Friend says, "God help us".
Lord Halsbury told me on a B.B.C. broadcast that the coin has been subjected to sample tests. But now we have had a sample test throughout the community, and the almost universal opinion is that although it may be pretty to look at it is hopeless as a functional piece of the monetary system. It is singularly unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not had penetrating words with the Decimal Currency Board with a view to getting it to change its mind quickly on the issue.
People are not prepared to listen to arrogant statements by academics on the board. They are practical people, like the newsagent at the top of Stanmore Hill, who has difficulty in giving change, and the landlord of a local public house, who is worrying about it, although he has not rigged up that system where a bell rings every time a 50p piece is received.
To some of my right hon. Friends this might seem a rather small matter, but it is of considerable importance, and they would be well advised to think again and to put some pressure on the board to withdraw the coin and substitute another. Nobody will be critical of it if an error has been made. A similar error was made when the Australians introduced decimal currency. But people will criticise my right hon. Friends if they do not listen to the people and adopt an arrogant attitude.
I also regret that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to make local councils be more open about their committee meetings. Many local councils admit the Press to their committee meetings. By and large the Press behaves most responsibly. But there are a few councils that like to preserve the atmosphere of a secret society about committee meetings, and I regret to say that one of these is the Harrow Borough Council, which admits the Press to only one committee, the Education Committee. It has to do 114 that, because the Act lays down that the Press must be admitted.
The result of not having the Press at a number of committees is that very often ratepayers do not discover until far too late what the council has been up to, so they cannot give their representatives the benefit of their advice. We had a recent case in my constituency where residents had been assured that an application for planning permission had been killed by the council, and then came home one night and found bulldozers and various other mechanical contraptions at work in the road. That arose because the committee concerned was closed to the Press, and so the fact that the council was going on with this matter was not disclosed to the residents. If some councils are to adopt that attitude, my right hon Friend might have to consider the possibility of legislating so that the Press has the right of admission to such meetings.
I am also disappointed that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about further improvements in animal welfare. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was very wise to bow to the wish of the House in stating that he would have an early review of the codes of practice that he introduced a week or so ago. No one wants to minimise those as a step forward. At last we have something on the Statute Book; but it is not adequate, and we might have had an indication of his strong feelings on the matter if there had been a mention of it in the Gracious Speech.
It is also about time that we had a Government Bill to abolish hare-coursing and stag-hunting with hounds. Bills to do that have been introduced over many years, and nearly every time they have been killed by the curious goings-on of hon. Members opposite who see in these blood-thirsty, callous activities some form of sport. I am constantly pressed by my constituents about this matter, as are many hon. Members, I am sure. My right hon. Friends would be very wise and have made themselves very popular—although that is not a consideration, of course, that affects them—if they had decided to introduce such a Measure.
With those reservations, I think that the Gracious Speech, although it does not glitter, is a very useful list of work which 115 the Government propose to ask us to do. It adds further to the many wonderful and solid achievements of the Government. I warmly welcome it, and look forward to debating with my right hon. Friends some of the other issues on which I have reservations.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Waltham-stow, East)
I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) about the 10s. coin. It is a most unhappy coin, and it is high time it was coloured or marked in some way distinctive, such as a hole in the middle, to make it absolutely unmistakable. Old people in my constituency have told me that they are very concerned that they may easily give it away as a 2s. piece, and they have a point.
I was delighted to hear a reference to Nigeria in the Gracious Speech, but my delight turned to great disappointment when I read the following curious sentence:My Ministers will remain ready to assist in any way they can to bring peace to Nigeria…".That is a dreadful sentence to read in Biafra Week, which is intended to draw the attention of the people of this country to the bloodshed and starvation that continues in that unhappy part of Africa, a bloodshed and starvation in which this country and this House have a share. The killing goes on, and it goes on because of British bullets. If the Government are serious about doing everything in their power to bring peace to Nigeria, I make the simple suggestion that they should stop sending arms and get back some of the moral leadership which they have so totally squandered in this tragic civil war.
I was delighted to read in the Gracious Speech that there is to be a Bill for establishing a more effective system of control over dangerous drugs. It is certainly badly needed. But I still say that the situation in connection with soft drugs is by no means clear. No one doubts that those who get on to hard drugs—the true addicts—started on soft drugs. It therefore seems particularly important that the Government should consider whether more should be said about the real dangers of these drugs.
116 No one has been able to say clearly whether cannabis is habit-forming, or is as dangerous as uninformed people say. We all know that the Wootton Report stated categorically that it was not dangerous and should be legalised. I am neither advocating legalisation nor that the law should be changed. I am asking for clarification.
A particular case I have in mind is that of the headmaster of one of the largest schools in Walthamstow who said to me, "Will somebody tell me whether it is a dangerous thing for my boys to smoke 'pot' and, if it is, why is it dangerous? Will somebody send me a directive? Will the medical officer of health let me know the true position?"
The tragedy is that often the parent who warns his child against smoking "pot" has never smoked it himself while his child is already doing just that. The words ring false, because the parent does not know what the dangers are. Therefore, while we must consider more and more control over dangerous drugs, let us try to clear up the whole drug situation, and, in particular, let us consider whether there should not be an attempt to create some sort of education directive on drugs which might be issued by the Department of Education to schools throughout the United Kingdom.
I believe that there is a need to assess the actual number of drug addicts. This is very difficult. No one seems to have reached a proper form of estimation, so we do not know whether we are talking about the tip of the iceberg or the iceberg itself.
Local authorities—and I am thinking particularly of the local authority in my constituency—want to know the scale of the problem around them because it is on that that they will decide whether they need a drug centre or a rehabilitation centre. We need the central Government to use their ability to try to help local authorities to assess the amount of addiction and then to come forward with financial assistance if drug centres or rehabilitation centres are required.
Drugs are part of the permissive society and of the world of law reform and I would like to turn to law reform because it was mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I should like to touch on one legal anomaly that continues year in, year out, 117 and causes much hardship to people who, as with so much given by the State, find themselves just over the line. I refer to legal aid.
A constituent of mine at this moment is preparing to defend himself in a court of law. He agrees that he may well have to use virtually all his financial reserves to do this. He is defending himself in a case where the plaintiff is legally aided. If he wins his case he will get nothing. If he loses, it is his bad luck. I suggest that we should make total costs available to anyone who is forced to defend himself, and does so successfully, where one party is on legal aid and the other is not. I hope, therefore, that the anomaly is included in any Bill advocating law reform.
I mentioned the permissive society. I was disappointed to find nothing in the Gracious Speech which suggested that the Government had any plans for limiting in any way the excesses of what some call the permissive society, what others call the promiscuous society, and what yet other more liberal minds call the civilised society. We want a more permissive and liberal approach to those parts of life which have, perhaps for too long, remained under cover.
But we must all be appalled by the endless stream of sexual trivia that we find in the Sunday newspapers and the constant accounts of criminals and their lives. The moment that a man commits a murder somebody is there with a cheque to get him to tell just how he did it. I find this whole thing nauseating, and it continues week in, week out, as though our appetite was insatiable.
Worse than this is the spread of pornography. I am not talking about the "girlie books; I am talking about perverted pornography which is found on bookstalls all over the country. When the subject is raised, everybody says, "Look at what is happening in Denmark. There is nothing to worry about. The more you sell, the quicker the sales go down."
Do we know whether the Danish experiment is proving anything? It has been going on for a matter of months. Yet everybody is drawing immediate conclusions. Whereas I doubt whether pornography in terms of natural sex is a bad thing, I am concerned about the spread of perverted and obscene litera- 118 ture which is found all over the country. It may be that propaganda does not mean anything, but if propaganda means anything in political terms why should it not mean something in pornographic terms? Are we going to sit by complacently happy because the Danes have taken off restrictions while we may be creating a corrupt society around us?
A lot has been said about the quality of life and the environment in which we live. While our environment in terms of polluted rivers, polluted air and polluted coastal waters is one thing, surely the quality of life as expressed on television, in newspapers, magazines, films and at the theatre is just as important. That is a side of the quality of life which affects our intellect and the whole civilised atmosphere in which we live.
I am not anxious to see any illiberal attitude to the world in which we live. All I ask is that we keep our values right and that we do not allow people to pervert the permissive society for purely commercial ends without any real intention of liberalising anybody or making life better.
I now turn to one other aspect of, or omission from, the Gracious Speech about which I was particularly sorry. The quality of life depends on upbringing. It depends on the teachers in our schools and on the health that we will enjoy in the latter part of our lives. We have been told that Socialism is the religion of priorities. What sort of religion of priorities says that ports nationalisation is more important than nurses' pay? The nurses are at breaking point in terms of the wages they are earning. A nurse coming into nursing earns little more than £600 a year. A 20-year-old secretary in central London demands at least £1,000 a year as well as luncheon vouchers. Yet who is more important to the health of our society?
I visited a hospital in my constituency and found that a ward sister, who had been there for eight years, was earning £935 a year. Her responsibility is enormous. Our lives depend upon such people. There is reference in the Gracious Speech to industrial health. But who will look after these sick people? Nurses. And I cannot believe that ports nationalisation, or any other Government scheme, 119 comes before giving them a decent remuneration.
I bitterly regret the total omission from the Gracious Speech of any reference to the pay of nurses or teachers. By all means let us talk about comprehensive education on its merits, but who runs education? Who is responsible for giving the best possible start in life to our children? Who guarantees them an opportunity to enjoy a civilised society? It is those who teach them. If we refuse to give decent salaries to those people we shall have a poor quality of education or, as is the case now, we shall have hardworking, public-spirited people who are living on a pittance, for which we should all be ashamed.
When I heard recently that a television personality was to be paid £50,000 for every programme in which he was involved I wondered what were his relative merits as compared with those of the nurses and the teachers. It is tragic that there is no reference to this matter in the Gracious Speech.
Another omission concerns housing. The only reference that I could find was to one limiting the increases in housing rents. So far so good. But I want to put in a plea for those people who owned property in 1948 which they let, only to find that because of a rent tribunal the rent of their property was fixed, and is fixed to this day. It is very easy to become emotional about landlords. I sometimes think that they are one of the harder done sections of the community, especially in areas like that of my constituency. Rents which were fixed 21 years ago have absolutely no relevance to the present cost of living.
To say that landlords do not maintain their properties—to say that they are blood suckers in society—is to be as unfair as one could be to people who have regarded their houses as providing opportunities for eking out small pensions. Let us hope that that ommision can be righted at some stage by this Government. If not, it will be when our turn comes.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) will forgive me if I do not pursue 120 all the points that he raised. There was a great deal in his speech with which I agreed fundamentally, especially in relation to his commentary on some of our social problems. I particularly liked his phrase about the commercial exploitation of the permissive society. I recall my waging a successful campaign in Newcastle-upon-Tyne three years ago in connection with pornography being distributed by, to and for children under the age of 13. If that kind of spirit pervades this sort of debate in future the House will be serving a useful purpose in discussing it.
Again, as a member of the National Union of Teachers, I agree with what the hon. Member says about them. But I want to to draw his attention to the fundamental fact that the discrepancy in earnings of different groups in the community, unrelated to their social value, is inevitably a consequence of living in a free capitalist society. At this point in his speech he should have followed the invitation to come over to this side of the House, because that kind of talk makes no impression on his Front Bench. Having said some nice things about him I am sorry to have to disagree with him on that that point. A great deal of what he said seemed common sense to me. I have not had the opportunity of hearing him before—perhaps because I have been abroad on European business as a representative of this House.
I want to speak about two or three points contained in the Gracious Speech, and to refer particularly to the phrase:proposals for the reorganisation of local governmentbeing put before the House. For many years I have been a strong advocate of the reform of our local government system. It is a completely archaic system; indeed, the present structure of our local government remains as it was when it was created in the latter years of the last century. A major technological and social revolution has taken place, during which time local government has become seriously ossified, almost to the point of death.
We have a mass of planning authorities in the United Kingdom, sometimes overlapping and sometimes lacking co-ordination with other planning authorities. Not one of those authorities can say that it is adequately staffed in terms of the recruitment of professional skills.
121 This is particularly so on Tyneside, part of which I have the privilege to represent. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) is on the Front Bench at the moment, and I realise that he cannot comment this evening, but I am sure that some of the things I say this evening will ring a few bells for him, because he and I, as backbenchers, have had a great deal to say about the urgent necessity of reorganising local government on Tyneside. This has not yet been done, and it is desperately urgent.
The reorganisation of Tees-side, some years ago, was not carried out in respect of Tyneside, and that fact will be a tremendous disadvantage to the Tyne in the years ahead. The revivification and resuscitation of industry and commerce on Tyneside has been and will continue to be severely held back so long as we have, on the river, this splintered, archaic system of local government. We have running along both banks of the river 17 or more local authorities all anachronistic in their creation, often lacking co-operation between them, and sometimes incredibly infused with mutual jealousy. It is a crazy set-up, and the sooner it is altered the better.
It is crazy anyway, because the river is basically the unifying force on Tyneside; indeed, workers on one side of the river cross it in their thousands going to and from work every day, and people living on bath banks do exactly the same thing. Families living on one side have relatives and families living on the other. Yet I regret to say that the local authority system—and now the police system—is based upon a division where there should be no division. We have a system in which traffic control and police administration—and we have special and concentrated problems of this kind along the river—were not brought up to date.
Because we did not have a reorganisation of Tyneside when we should have had it, several years ago we very regrettably lost control of our own police force on the riverside. The River Tyne is now used as a major divisive force between two large police forces. We arrived at the wrong solution. I said so at the time to the Home Secretary. We shall live to regret this.
122 As for civic and town planning, it is impossible to reorganise effectively the social and civic life of Tyneside with a splintered system of local government. The same applies to higher education. On Tyneside it can no longer be effectively provided because there are so many higher education authorities. Again, in respect to the reorganisation of secondary education, we cannot effectively reorganise on comprehensive lines when so many inconsistent policies are being pursued by different education authorities along the river. On top of this, because we did not reorganise, Tyneside lost some of its ablest and most effective local government servants, and a general depression began to set in amongst those who worked there.
I speak passionately about this. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon-Tyne, West will remember, I was previllaged to be Parliamentary Private Secretary for some years to the then Minister of Housing—the present Secretary of State of Social Services, my right hon. Friend the Member for Conventry, East (Mr. Crossman). The recommendation had been made by my right hon. Friend to go ahead with the unification of local government on the Type. Unfortunately, he left that office. If he had remained there only a few weeks longer I would not be making the sort of speech that I now regrettably have to make. We should have had the large new authority and there would have been a great surge forward in Tyneside local government. But he left that office to become Leader of the House and there has been indecision ever since on Tyneside. It is a bitter irony that, several years later, it takes the Maud Report to make almost precisely the same recommemdations for Tyneside as were made then by my right hon. Friend.
Therefore, the ossification has continued. I know, that, this evening, there will be, as a reaction to what I have said, bitter criticism from local government representatives on the Tyne about imposing the big city solution on Tyneside. I realise that I am treading on some very powerful political corns on the river side, including members of my own party. That does not worry me, because what is right for Tyneside for my generation and that of my children is radically different 123 from the point of view still being advocated by those now approaching their seventies and eighties.
If there is any future for local government in this country—I have given only one example—the basic reforms recommended by Maud should be brought forward as a matter of urgency; I hope that progress will be made, at least on the general principles, before the General Election.
The Gracious Speech also refers to powers to limit increases in house rents in modified form and says that these will be subject to legislation. I believe that the increases in the rents of council houses in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the last few years have been excessive. It is impossible for Labour Members on Tyneside, with their close contact with the trade union movement and working class people, to appeal with any great conviction for restraint in wage demands to help the economy when the local authority persistently raises rents so excessively.
I heard the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) talk about the impact of interest rates on local authority housing. Having served for many years in my early twenties as a member of a housing committee of a local authority, I understand his point, but I would remind the House that Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in little over a year, has had its subsidy from the Government for council housing increased—I am not absolutely sure of the figures but they are roughly accurate—from £750,000 to about £1¼ million. That is an increase of £500,000 a year, just for council houses, from the taxpayers of the country as a whole, yet there have still been enormous rent increases.
Therefore, when the Government consider their new legislation I hope that they will pay more regard to the inquiries which they are now conducting, and may even have concluded, into the items which are properly chargeable to the housing revenue accounts of local authorities. I know that local authorities must balance their accounts over a period, but it seems wrong that costly schemes of civic replanning and redevelopment, layout of new patterns of grassing over and building new estates, and the resuscitation of clearance areas, which benefit the whole 124 city, including private tenants and owner-occupiers, should be put on the shoulders of council house tenants alone under the housing revenue account.
I hope that the Government will recommend changes in this direction and will advise local authorities, if not push them, to shunt out of their housing revenue account some of the items in it. I concede of course—I am not making a party speech—that high interest rates make rent restriction difficult, but there is a heavy subsidy from the taxpayers and we must think again about this whole system. I hope that we shall see some progress here.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government will take part in promoting measures towards European unity. As a representative of this Parliament at the Assemblies of Western European Union and the Council of Europe, I probably spend as much time in Europe as any hon. Member. I think that I know my Europeans, and I welcome the Government's initiatives. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), I do not feel so passionately about the issue one way or the other, but I hope that I approach it with some common sense.
Europe needs the United Kingdom. Having been several times to all the E.E.C. countries, even over the last three or four months I know that all their economies, especially that of France, have a great deal to learn from ours. I wish people in this country would not be so masochistic as they have been in recent months—they are recovering a little now—about the impotence and incompetence of our economy.
Only a few months ago, speaking to members of the French Patronat, a powerful businessmen's organisation in Paris, I asked why they did not want us to enter the Community. They replied, "We fear the competition and efficiency of British industry." This encouraged me, because I thought that if they fear us perhaps we are under-estimating ourselves. Both ideologically and commercially the steam is running out of the E.E.C. and they need the new impetus which only the United Kingdom and some of our friends in this process could give.
125 So there is no need for us to go crawling on our knees into Europe, accepting any conditions, and I do not think that the Government will. The conditions are vital. Having taken a close interest in consumer matters in this House since 1964, I believe that we need to keep a close eye, in negotiating conditions of entry, on the problem of food prices. I have no doubt that our entry will, for a variety of reasons, cause increases in real wages, but, if it is accompanied by relatively steep rises in the price of food, the increased wages may be all right for me and my generation, but will not be so useful for the pensioner's generation, who will not receive that benefit and will receive the benefit of increase productivity only if we have a Government with a passion and care for them as the under-privileged members of our society.
These points must be borne in mind, but, remembering the need to get into a forceful drive forward in Europe in which we participate, in spite of the difficulties and the possible problems, the case for our seeking entry and negotiating the best possible conditions is overwhelming. Those on both sides of the House who feel so passionately on this subject could well change the style of the debate to one of examining closely, in concrete terms, what we can get on the basis of the realistic conditions which we can negotiate.
My final point is geared to that, and it refers to an off-the-cuff remark—although perhaps nothing that he says is off the cuff—by the Leader of the Opposition about value-added tax. There seems to be a growing unanimity of Front Bench opinion in the House about the desirability of a swing from taxation on incomes towards taxation on spending. There is a kind of conspiracy of agreement between them. It is a feeling which I am loath to share with them. Of course I accept that a swing from direct to indirect taxation will help the income earner, and of course I accept that it will be relatively popular. People are more conscious of paying their taxes when the money comes out of their pay packets; they seldom have the faintest idea what they are paying in taxes when they are buying services and commodities which are taxed. In terms of political 126 opportunism, I have no doubt that it is a very attractive idea.
But there are two points to bear in mind. First, there is the social or moral point that help to the income earner would be at the cost of increases in the prices of services and commodities. It would help me, but it would not help my mother and father, who are entirely dependent on their pensions, because they would not benefit from lower income tax but they would suffer from the increased cost of services and goods. That is equally true about the sick, the unemployed, people with low incomes and people with large families.
I give notice—provided that I catch the eye of the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that if this move takes place I shall have a number of pertinent questions to ask whether there will be compensatory protection in social service benefits for those who will not benefit from reduced income tax but who will suffer from an increased cost of living which will be a consequence of a switch of taxation to commodities and services. Perhaps I am prejudiced, but I feel confident that a Labour Government will be more conscious about this point than perhaps those who might follow them in office—although from current opinion polls I am not sure that there will be the change in power which so many hon. Members opposite have forecast for so many years.
Secondly, the O.E.C.D. Tables issued by the Department of Economic Affairs a few months ago showed that our indirect taxation in the United Kingdom on commodities and services was already among the highest in the Western world, and that, contrary to popular belief and to what the House has been told by the Front Bench, our direct taxation in the United Kingdom is among the lowest in the Western world. If the change is to be made, therefore, at least let us have it based upon facts and not upon fancy.
The right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) made a remark as an aside which rang a bell with me. He said, "Of course the Government agree about a value-added tax". I do not know whether they do agree. The Government's official statements so far say that they do not agree. They have appointed the Reddaway inquiry into the operation of selective employment tax, and I credit the Government with some sense: I do not think that 127 they will decide how services and commodities shall be taxed until they have read the report of the inquiry into the subject which they set up.
I will explain what I think the right hon. Member for Bexley did. Knowing how much his right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) had gaffed by the very severe way in which he put his advocacy of a value-added tax at the Conservative Party conference, and knowing the public reaction which has taken place since, the right hon. Member for Bexley simply threw the muck to this side of the House. He can keep it, as far as I am concerned. I am one of the strongest opponents on this side of the House of selective employment tax. That is on the record. I need not detail that this evening. But I have seen the value-added tax in action, and it seems to me that the devil we know is better than the devil we do not know in the United Kingdom. I would far prefer the present S.E.T. to the kind of value-added tax system being advocated by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West. Far more money can be raised by S.E.T. at a fraction of the cost of the value-added tax. Anyone who has studied the problem, as the right hon. Member for Enfield, West must have studied it, must know that the administrative costs of applying the value-added tax compared with those of S.E.T. are excessive and undesirable.
I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place, although I do not expect him to stay to listen to a speech by me, but when he throws across the Floor of the House the comment, "The Government agree with the value-added tax", I am led to wonder whether there are channels of communication available to him which are not available to me. I do not think there are—at least not from the Government benches. I know from conversations that have taken place both within the Government and within the Labour Party that there are certain questions on which we have not yet reached a decision and on which the motivation and thinking are not along the lines followed by the right hon. Members for Enfield, West or Bexley.
I have gone on long enough. There is a great deal in the Gracious Speech to be welcomed. There is a wide perspective 128 of new major legislation in a great range of fields yet to be covered by the present Government.
I am particularly pleased by the fact that despite all the difficulties that have faced the Government and the political doldrums through which my party has gone in the last three years, the Government have not lost their head of steam. The Government who went out of office in 1951 seemed, whatever the reason, to lose their head of steam and they had a defeatist complex about them. Perhaps that was one of the reasons for their leaving office prematurely. I was not an hon. Member at that time, but I have studied the situation.
The position in 1969–70 is by no means the same as that in 1950–51. The present Government still know that they have many new initiatives to take in legislation and I believe that both the House and the people will support those initiatives. I do not want to make forecasts about the future of this Parliament or about what will happen after the next General Election. Earlier my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) was told that he would not be here after the next election. I will not join in that sort of forecasting because, apart from sticking one's neck out, it gets one nowhere.
There exists a fluid state of public opinion. Politically, more people do not know than at any time previously. That was true in Germany when I was there shortly before their general election, it was true in Sweden when I was there just before their general election and exactly the same situation prevailed in Norway when I was there a few days before their general election. It is interesting to note that in every democratic nation which has recently held elections—be it Germany, Australia, Sweden or even the presidential election in the United States or the elections in Norway—the result has been narrow, sometimes even to a declaration waiting until the last seat and vote has been counted. This is a political phenomenon of our time which, on another occasion, the House might consider.
As the party lines become blurred and as more and more people feel that there is no fundamental difference between the policies being pursued by the two parties 129 —I am not saying that that is a fair estimation on the part of the people—there are more and more of those who do not know, and this indecisive tendency produces results which cannot easily be forecast. However, the Government must do what is right by the nation, regardless of party advantage, and what is right by the Socialist philosophy that they have inherited from the past. If they do that, they will not go far wrong in the next 18 months.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) that the Gracious Speech represents a large head of steam. Frankly, I do not believe that the steam which it represents would drive one of those one or two horse power steam engines of which we were hearing some time ago and which the Prime Minister was promising the country. Those promises have turned out to be a lot of hot air and many people would, as a result, have been glad of a Session without much legislation. We could have devoted more time to important matters of the world, which could have been thoroughly debated without the need for legislation.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, about the E.E.C. I have always been greatly in favour of joining Europe, not only because it would be a tremendous adventure for us but because, in my view, it would be of great benefit to Britain. But the British people want to hear the facts and figures of the argument and have a thorough debate based on the facts and not based on prejudice.
I spend a considerable amount of time in Europe, whenever I have the opportunity to do so and for as long as my £50 allowance will last me. There is no question of our ever going down on our knees, cap in hand, to get into Europe. That must never be our attitude. I am sure that we can drive a good and hard bargain and, whichever party is in power, I hope that that will be done, for if we cannot drive a proper bargain we should not enter. In any event, we will never go to the bottom of the sea if we fail to join the E.E.C. Nevertheless, it would be a good thing for Britain if we could join.
130 The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), for whom I have the highest regard, spoke a lot about the sterilisation and utilisation of the land. I wish that in this Gracious Speech there were some inspiring words on this subject telling us, for instance, that we were to investigate the draining of the Wash and turning that area to useful advantage. This is an old hobby-horse of mine. From such a scheme could be obtained supplies of water, of which we are very short. Other exciting possibilities could make a great impact if we decided to tackle this area, as I am sure that Holland would have done many years ago.
As one travels to London from Norfolk one sees in the last 20 or 30 miles of the journey into Liverpool Street Station miles of devastation in the form of old gravel pits, derelict buildings and land which is of no use to man or beast. A programme of land utilisation would seize the country's imagination.
Education is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I have served on a county council for just on 20 years, and I am on the education committee. As is acknowledged by everyone, Norfolk has a most outstanding chief education officer, yet he has not advised us nor have we seen fit to order him to agree to a Government plan incorporating total compulsory comprehensive education. We know that although we have spent millions of pounds on our education system we have not yet got it absolutely right, and the last thing we want is to upset that system once again.
Most people probably believe that in certain parts comprehensive schools are good, but I believe also that we should retain the best of the grammar schools. We want choice in education. We believe that parents should be able to choose different sorts of education to fit the varying needs of their children. Tremendous harm will be done if steps are taken to compel local education authorities, which know their areas, to waste time trying to fit comprehensive education into places where the necessary funds are not available and the physical condition of the schools is not suitable. I am sure that were this to be done we would lose a great deal in the next 20 or 30 years.
Three main concerns of many of my constituents are not mentioned in the 131 Gracious Speech. The first of these is immigration. In Norfolk we do not have many immigrants, except from Scotland and Ireland, yet there is great concern about the build up of immigrant populations in certain areas. This is still going on, yet nothing urgent is proposed. Nor are there any proposals to meet the urgent need for better housing, education and welfare in those districts. There seems to be no real sense of urgency but if something urgent is not done there will be an outburst of racial violence, if not in my time, in that of my children or my grandchildren, which will create absolute chaos. We ought all to forget our prejudices in this matter and to tackle immigration problems in areas where junior classes in the schools have 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. immigrant children. This problem will become very severe if we do not tackle it energetically. I regret very much that nothing urgent is proposed about it in the Gracious Speech.
There is no mention in the Gracious Speech of police forces. Law and order is almost on the verge of breakdown. There is proof of a tremendous increase in crimes of violence and an increasing danger that demonstrations about race, religion, or students may turn into riots. Our police forces have been stretched too thinly for far too long. The only way in which criminals can be deterred from practising organised crime is by ensuring that they are likely to be detected. The Norfolk police force, only 1,000 strong, is at present 200.20 per cent.—short of the strength which was recommended by the police authorities over two years ago, yet the population has increased by many thousands since then.
Finally, I mention a matter which has been my concern since I have been a Member of this House. That is housing. Apart from a very small reference, there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about tackling what I believe to be the greatest social problem of our times. Something on the scale of a wartime effort is needed on the part of everyone—Government, local authorities, individuals and private enterprise—if we are to make this country somewhere worth living in where we have proper homes for the children who are growing up.
A wonderful effort has been made by Shelter, which has caught the imagination 132 of many young people. I have read, as I am sure many other hon. Members have, the recent penetrating articles in The Times by Winston Churchill. They present a picture to which I am afraid we often close our eyes and shut our ears. We do not want to think about the horrible squalor in large areas of the country. There are over 2 million houses which are unfit for human habitation according to Government standards.
In the United Kingdom excluding Northern Ireland, of a total housing stock of something over 17 million, fewer than 10 million are fit and have the basic sanitary amenities, and 4½ million need to be demolished. These facts have been established. I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Housing Bill last Session. That Bill provided for many things which need to be done, particularly in the improvement of older houses, but that means spending money taken out of the whole housing programme. It will mean that fewer houses will be built as a result of the campaign to improve older houses. Despite the wonderful work done by Shelter, there is no real concern or anger at the conditions in which many people live.
The House rightly became very indignant the other day about the housing of livestock. The Government did a very stupid thing in ignoring their own Brambell Committee's recommendations on animal housing. The Minister had to back-pedal. Yet the vast majority of livestock are exceptionally well housed. Cannot we feel the same sort of urgency and anger about the housing of people?
More houses are badly needed. Official figures published on 22nd October reveal that housing completions for the first nine months of this year have been lower than those for any similar period since 1963; 34,000 fewer houses were completed than in the first nine months of 1968. In the private sector 26,000 fewer private houses have been completed than in the first nine months of 1968. There has been a sharp fall in housing starts too. The new housing programme is not doing very well.
I hope that the modernisation of houses will receive a real impetus from the Housing Act. Many of the principles embodied in the Act were advocated by me in the first speech I made in an Adjournment debate. I hope that 133 the Act will make a great difference, but it must be implemented urgently, because there are many good houses without any sanitary conveniences which will become slum houses if they are not tackled at once. I hope that local authorities will act urgently. I hope that it will be explained to people what rights they have under the Act and that they will take advantage of the new grants.
But, whatever is done, it will hardly make a big impact for several years. A third prong is needed—the emergency patching up of hundreds of thousands of houses in which the younger generation will have to live for many years to come although these houses are condemned. If we could do what Shelter has done and spend £300 to £400 a house on making these houses watertight and putting in some amenities, we could save these houses until new ones could be built to replace them.
We must not across the Floor argue politics too much on this issue. Although it is part of my party's programme, I do not believe that we shall get a great deal, certainly in my area, by trying to sell council houses, although in some areas they may go well. The sale may give us more money to devote to the building of new houses.
I was appalled to hear the statement by some Labour Members during the proceedings in Standing Committee on the Housing Bill that they would rather people lived in squalor in poor houses than that landlords should get a reasonable return to enable them to improve the houses. Many tenants bring their cases to me and tell me that they would gladly pay more rent if their landlord would install a bathroom, or do up the closet, or put in water supply. We must use every agency to improve housing conditions. In particular, we must bring back the private developer to build houses to let as well as for sale.
As an estate agent and surveyor, I sell houses, and I would let them if there were any houses to let. There are no houses to let in my area. I know that there are many people who will always want a council house, and equally there are many people who will always want to own their own home. However, there is a third category, and it is becoming even more important these days as people move to and from jobs rather than stay- 134 ing in the same place. There is a great need in every area for good houses, and not only local authority houses, to let. I say "not only local authority houses", because some people do not like to live in them. That is their own preference.
Again, one cannot move from one local authority area to another without the greatest difficulty. In my area there are two rural district councils side by side, and I spent a year trying to assist one man to move from one rural district council area to another one about seven miles away. As for trying to move from London to Norfolk, or from Norfolk to Birmingham, it is quite impossible.
We must bring back the private developer. There must be some incentive, taxwise or otherwise, to bring him back to build houses. I have spent a lot of time dealing with this question because I am extremely disappointed that this, which is probably the greatest social evil of our time, from which so many other evils spring, is not being tackled as it should. All of us—Government, councillors, local councils and individuals—must give more time, show more anger and more concern to the housing of our people.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. William Price (Rugby)
I want to say only one thing to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins). The Conservative local authority in Rugby, two or two and a half years ago, stopped its council house building programme, and it has no intention of building another council house in the foreseeable future. It did not need any persuasion to damp down on its building programme. What I should like to know is how many more Tory local authorities are acting in a similarly despicable manner.
I want to deal with one matter arising from the Gracious Speech. It will come as no surprise to us to learn that we are to reorganise local government. It is difficult to argue the case for or against the action that the Government intend to take until they put their plans on paper, but I suggest that what we shall get is the gospel according to the Whitehall doctrine of centralisation. It does not matter whether we are dealing with hospitals, industry, the Church, or local government; what we have to do is to lump 135 everybody together and all will be well. It follows as surely as day follows night, it is said, that 1 million people will be happier, more contented and better cared for than 50,000.
We all want cost-effectiveness. We all want better services. We all want an effective and humane community. We all want a society which can look after the old and the young, the sick and the poor. But I am not convinced that size by itself will solve any of the difficulties of local government. In my view, it is likely to create more problems than it solves.
Presumably, the Government have been persuaded by Maud. For my part, I regard it as a fairly harmless academic romp, prepared by people who have never done a day's political canvassing in their lives. Who else could come to the conclusion that the creation of massive authorities will increase people's interest in local affairs and stimulate civic and political discussion? We all know how to assess interest and participation in local government. Ask people who their parish councillors are, and they will probably know. Ask who their borough or rural councillors are, and the question becomes more difficult. Ask who their county councillors are, and nobody knows.
I do not say that as a reflection upon the people who serve. There are thousands of good people serving on local authorities, unknown and unsung. County councils, by tradition, are large and detached authorities, and, as a result, whatever their politics, they are regarded with great suspicion by almost everyone. This is true in my area, and I am sure that it is true in most others.
I just do not believe it if the Government think that, by accepting the plan to set up these great unitary authorities, with towns like mine of 55,000 people reduced to consultative status, this will stimulate any interest at all. It is far more likely that we shall have the deadening hand of authority put upon us, with empire-building, bureaucracy, and all the other quaint offshoots of centralisation. We have seen it so often. No doubt, we shall see it again.
I am certain that we shall be at a disadvantage in looking for the personal 136 human touch. Officials—I have seen it already will become more inaccessible. Many people will find it impossible to serve—another matter of importance—and more power will be concentrated in fewer hands.
I make no secret of my interest in this matter. I live in a village of 200 people. I live there by choice. If I want to live in a conurbation, I can do so. But I do not want the Government to push me there. The 200 people in my village are individuals, all independent, though not politically independent. We do not want to live as a suburb of Coventry. I came from Coventry. Why should the Government tell me that I must be part of an authority covering 750,000 or 800,000 people?
I am sorry to pick on my own area. It sounds parochial, I know, but what I envisage will be multiplied all over Britain. We have had some centralisation in my constituency already. We nearly lost a hospital. Now we have Mr. Weinstock. He owns all the industry of any size, and it has even been said that, if he made a successful bid for the abattoir, he would have the lot. The gas board packed its bags and went to Solihull. Our social security facilities disappeared to Coventry. Railway work went to Bletchley. God knows where I am going.
§ Mr. Price
This is not reorganisation. It is strangulation. It is what my community has been suffering for years. It would all be fine, and I should accept it, if there were any evidence that it worked. I exempt Arnold Weinstock for the moment—it is far too early to study the effects of the reorganisation at the moment, though it is not looking bad—but on each of the other things I have mentioned the effect of centralisation and bigger units has been disastrous.
Who am I to complain? The planners in Whitehall have it all worked out on paper. They wanted to take my people in Rugby to a maternity hospital 20 miles away. It makes sense, good business sense, until the doctors take one round the maternity hospital and explain, "That woman and child there would not have lived if they had gone 20 miles ". That is what is overlooked. The planners have 137 no conception of how things work out in practice; they have it all worked out on paper.
The paper belief is that there is no place left for the small man, the small community, the small school, the small hospital or even, to return to what the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) said, for the small majority. They will not be satisfied in the Midlands until they have a seething mass of bodies in buildings stretching from Stratford-upon-Avon to Stafford, and the time is coming for this House to stop the trend and, in some respects—I am thinking of regional hospital boards—to reverse it.
We have the classic case of regional mess-ups with the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board. It is a delightful organisation. No one knows who serves on it or what decisions are taken. It operates as a mixture of the Secret Service and the Masonic Order. If you go to them and complain about a coming decision, they say, "No use complaining; we have not taken the decision". If you wait until they have taken it, they say, "Go away: it is too late". If this is what regionalisation means, in Rugby at least we want nothing to do with it.
What fascinates me is the question whether or not the Government have a majority in the House, or whether there is a majority without the Whips, for the Maud Report. I suspect that there will not be and that, even if there is, there will be such a strong minority opposing it that it will suffer the fate of several other Bills during the past few months.
There has been an interesting development in the House, certainly on our side, lately. Every so often, the Whips go round and tap heads to find out how we feel and ask our opinions. We have suddenly begun to feel that we matter after all. Then, having come to a democratic view, the Government take the opposite line. The advice which I would offer my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench is that they tell the Whips to go round and count some heads but that, on this occasion, if the counting goes as I suspect, the Government should do what the majority wish before making another mistake. I want the Government to say simply that Maud was a useful exercise, that they 138 express their deep gratitude and that they treat it in the traditional way reserved for Royal Commissions—kick it around until it gets lost.
Of course, I would not argue that there is not scope for reorganisation. I could no more defend an authority of 15,000 people than I could the creation of one with 1¼ million people: neither makes sense. Much in the way of mergers and rationalisation is necessary. It is significant that authorities which have been fighting each other for years are now saying, "Let us get together and fight off Maud".
From an electoral point of view, the Government have nothing to gain or to lose. There is no interest in Maud. If one asked 100 people what they thought of Maud, one would get some very wide-ranging replies, including some that probably could not be repeated even in the House. Despite this lack of interest, what the majority of people want is a decent community of a reasonable size, well able to look after the young, the old, the sick and the poor. I do not believe that the majority are happy at the continuing moves towards centralisation and the creation of mass units. What we want is movement of power towards people and not away from them, and the last thing we want is the Maud Report.
One of the best comments that I have read or heard for a long time, apart from the Prime Minister's one at Brighton—I will attribute this one and will not claim it for myself—came from a trade unionist speaking at a T.U.C. conference in, I think, Scotland. He said that trade unionists needed the Industrial Relations Bill about as badly as Custer needed more Indians. That is how I feel about the Maud Report.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Campbell (Oldham, West)
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) devoted most of his amusing speech to the Redcliffe-Maud Report and I find myself almost entirely in agreement with him. I represent a constituency in the North of England, a part of a borough which is very happy with its present local authority situation. I subscribe to the view that it is very important that people should be able to walk to their own town hall and not look to a 139 local authority many miles away. My constituents, I fear, resent being governed from Westminster. They feel that we down here, a long way from them, are not sufficiently interested in what goes on in Oldham and they will feel the same about their local authority if that is sited at Preston or somewhere miles away and remote from them.
I am happy to note that, in the Gracious Speech, we are not told that legislation is to be introduced about the Redcliffe-Maud Report. All we are told is that proposals will be put forward for the reorganisation of local government. I suppose that means that we shall see a White Paper and I am happy that nothing more than that is suggested at this stage, because I am really worried about this matter.
I believe that the Government may be stampeded into quick action on the Report as a result of the embarrassing situation in which they find themselves in connection with Parliamentary boundaries. They propose to postpone implementation of the Boundary Commissions' Reports and give as their reason that there is to be a local government reorganisation. I fear that the Government will be under pressure to get that reorganisation completed quickly so that they do not have to delay indefinitely the Parliamentary boundary reorganisation.
It would be unfortunate if the Government were to go ahead too quickly with local authority reorganisation. It is a vitally important matter. Once the local authorities are reorganised, no doubt they will remain in that state for another century or so and it would be a terrible mistake to rush it. I hope that this matter will be discussed fully and without the sense of urgency I have seen advocated by home hon. Members.
Turning generally to the Gracious Speech, I would only say that I hope that we do not try to complete half of it. I spend some of my life in courts where we try to understand the legislation coming from this place. Sometimes it takes a great deal of understanding. I hope that we spend more time upon our legislation, perhaps produce a good deal less of it but produce legislation which can be put into effect and enforced by 140 the courts without the difficulties which the courts now face.
For example, Parliament intended the Road Safety Act, 1967, to prevent drunken drivers from driving their motor cars on our roads. But that legislation was so defective that throughout the land today men who do have in their bodies an excess of alcohol and are driving are nevertheless acquitted by the courts. This is the result of trying to legislate too fast too much. I urge the Government not to try to complete a half of the legislation mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
I very much regret that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about law and order. Some of us are becoming increasingly alarmed by the increase in crime and particularly in violence. The use of the knife, the stabbings that go on throughout our land these days are things which all of us abhor, and yet they are happening with increasing frequency. The football violence, the ordinary vandalism that goes on today, are things to which we must find an answer—this strange urge, on the part of young people mainly, to destroy something, so that if they go into a telephone kiosk, they tear the instrument from the wall.
At the weekend, I was shown a public lavatory in my constituency. I was taken there by some councillors who wanted me to see what had happened to this new public lavatory built only about a year ago. I was shown where lights had been torn from the ceiling and how the doors of the cubicles were hanging off their hinges and how a splendid machine which pumped hot air to dry one's hands after they had been washed had been torn from the floor for no reason. Hundreds of pounds worth of damage had been done.
What is the answer to this increasing problem? It is something to which we must find an answer. In my constituency I meet old ladies who tell me that they are afraid to go out of their back doors to get coal for the fire after it has become dark. They are afraid of meeting one of the thugs of whom they read in the newspapers. Rather than go outside the back door to get coal for the fire, they go to bed.
Education, some people say, would help. They say that if we could educate our young people to behave better, that would solve the problem. But our young 141 people today are probably better educated than they have ever been and yet vandalism is on the increase. We must find some way to meet this problem and it must he in the search for some new or different punishment for people convicted of these offences. We have tried everything in the courts. Probation does not seem to help. Fines do not matter, for these young people earn so much money that if they are fined, they just pay the fine and go away. Suspended sentences do not meet the need and, for that matter, imprisonment does not seem to be the answer.
I have come to the conclusion that the only answer is, in special cases, to restore some measure of corporal punishment. If anybody can suggest some other answer, I should like to hear it. I have never made any secret of the fact that I should favour the restoration of capital punishment, but I think that the restoration of corporal punishment is much more important. Let us at least consider that possibility.
In the Isle of Man, where corporal punishment is still resorted to in suitable cases, one does not find the violence and vandalism that there is in England. We must find a way of protecting private and public property and making our streets and towns safe for law-abiding citizens to walk in. I urge the Government to consider introducing legislation to deal with this very grave problem.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
Everyone in the House deplores vandalism and violence, but the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) has overstated his case. The implication that people are afraid to go out of doors does not hold water. We are not in the same situation as parts of some towns in the United States. There is an increasing problem, but I do not think that we serve any useful purpose by exaggerating it, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has seriously exaggerated it.
As for his remedy, I say to him kindly, as an ex-teacher, that in my experience corporal punishment has never really achieved the purpose for which it was intended. I have used it on occasions as a teacher, but it never really achieved its purpose. I cannot point to any boy or a single instance where I have done 142 what I set out to do by caning a youngster.
My first impression on reading the Gracious Speech is that we shall have a very busy Session if all that it contains becomes law. I am tempted to say that perhaps there is too much legislation here, but I am in the difficulty that I shall later suggest one or two things that it should contain but does not, which makes that argument rather ridiculous.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government… will pursue their work through the United Nations for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East….I have just returned from a visit to the Middle East, and I came back feeling depressed. I cannot see that we shall get a lasting peace in the Middle East, certainly within the next few years. Passions are so inflamed, positions are so entrenched, that I cannot see what the result will be.
The Government are right to stand squarely behind the United Nations resolution of which they were the sponsor. There will not be a peace in the Middle East unless the Arab countries recognise the existence of the State of Israel, but Israel has a tremendous responsibility and a particular job it must do. I was horrified as I am sure many other people were, to read the article in The Times today about conditions in the Israeli-occupied territory on the west bank of the Jordan. I think that this is the first time that a leading newspaperman has returned and printed that story. It makes terrifying reading.
There can be no peace in the Middle East until Israel is prepared to give up the major part of its occupied territory. I do not suggest that she should give up every inch. For example, for purely strategic reasons, there may be a case for Israel retaining the Heights of Golan, which were obviously used previously by the Syrians for shelling the Israeli kibbutzin. But there is no strategic case—and this is the crucial point—for Israel retaining the whole of Jerusalem. This may be the key negotiating point in the Middle East.
Secondly, Israel must accept a much greater responsibility for the Palestinian refugees. While in Jordan I visited the Palestine refugee camps. There are more refugees in Jordan than there are natural 143 inhabitants. Some of these people, although the Jordanian Government are doing everything possible for them, are living in appalling conditions. They see no future. Their homes are in Palestine. They are exiles. Many have been exiled since 1948, some since 1956 and others since 1967.
There is tremendous bitterness which has been transferred to the younger generation. I had hoped that the younger generation would have accepted the position, but it is clear that the Arabs who were driven out of Palestine will not accept that position. There is a ray of hope if Israel is willing to give financial assistance and/or resettle some of the refugees. However, I am very pessimistic indeed about the chances of a lasting peace.
I welcome the fact that the Government intend to reintroduce Bills to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts. This is long overdue.
I also welcome the statement that legislation for the reorganisation of the ports will be presented. I am not a Clause Four Socialist. I do not automatically believe that the answer or the panacea to all our problems is public ownership. But there is a strong economic argument for public ownership of the ports and a strong central ports authority. This will be of economic benefit to Britain. The real competition in the industry is not between Southampton and Bristol or London and Liverpool; it is between British and continental ports. Anyone who has been to Rotterdam, Hamburg or other European ports will verify that this is the real competition. We must have a bigger share of the world trade in British ports. To do this there must be a properly planned national investment programme, and this can only be done through some form of public ownership.
I turn now to the proposed legislation for secondary school reorganisation. Much has been said about it today. I fully recognise that there is a dividing line between the responsibility of the Government and the responsibility of local authorities. It is right that any decision on this sort of issue should be carefully considered. I support the decision revealed in the Gracious Speech to introduce legislation for compulsory 144 reorganisation. My experience as a teacher has led me to the inescapable conclusion that the 11-plus selective system is wrong for this country. It has distorted primary education and its effect on secondary education is also detrimental.
I believe that it was the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) who said that we want more choice in education. Let us consider this choice factor. It is an argument often used by the Opposition. They say that we are destroying choice in education. Will somebody please tell me where the choice lay under the old selective system, when 75 or 80 per cent. went to the secondary modern school and the remainder to the grammar school?
If I have a son I have no choice as to whether I send him to a grammar school or secondary modern school. Whether or not he goes to a grammar school depends on some sort of academic ability, judged at the age of 11. Parents never have had a choice in that respect. There is far more parental choice inside a comprehensive secondary system than there ever could be in the existing selective sytem.
The issue of relationship between central and local government was admirably expressed in the Sunday Times editorial last Sunday, which said that in respect of certain basic principles it was the duty of the Government to legislate. One of these is the abolition of selection as such. But I must issue a mild warning to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I was a little alarmed to read a recent speech of his which went rather far in talking about the tyranny of examinations. The fact that I think that 11-plus selection, and the grading system resulting from it, is wrong, does not mean that I am opposed to all examinations. I recognise that in every school some sort of standard must be maintained.
Although I have been critical of the G.C.E. O and A level examinations, and would like to see some modification in them and more co-ordination between the various governing boards, I do not want to sweep away all external examinations and to rely upon some form of internal assessment, because, as a teacher, I know how often I have been wrong in assessing a child's ability. I still want 145 to see some form of external examination in secondary education. My right hon. Friend spoke too strongly when he talked about the tyranny of examinations. He seemed to imply that all examinations imposed a tyranny.
I am sorry that it was not possible to include in the Gracious Speech not merely a small education Measure dealing with comprehensive education but a major Measure. It is now 25 years since we had a major Education Act. Many of the provisions of the 1944 Butler Act are out of date and urgently need revising. I would have liked to see a new major Education Act this Session. I hope that we shall see it early in the next Parliament.
There is much to be done in many fields, but I wish to refer merely to one. In an Education Act it is necessary to lay down that it is the duty of local authorities to provide nursery education for all those children whose parents require it. Nursery education is one sector of education that has been sadly neglected in the last 20 years. It was the Conservative Act in the early 1950s which prevented local authorities from spending money in building nursery schools. For financial reasons that may have been necessary in 1953, or whenever it was, but it is not applicable in 1969 or 1970.
I would also have liked to see some sort of legislation to put into effect the recent proposals of the Select Committee on Education, on which I served for a year, concerning student relations and higher education. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the proposals of that Select Committee and, if necessary, legislate upon them.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, has left the Chamber. He made a good point in criticising the fact that the Gracious Speech contains little mention of housing. I was very alarmed by his figures. At the end of this year, I think that the figure of housing completions will be down, perhaps considerably, on last year. One of the major reasons, which the hon. Member did not give, is that when many local authorities fell to the Tories two or three 146 years ago, the first thing they did was cut back the housing programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) quoted Rugby. I can quote Southampton. When Labour left office there, there was a forward housing programme of 1,800 houses a year. The very first act of the Conservative on taking control was to cut it drastically, to 600. This has been repeated all over the country.
I was alarmed to read the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), the Opposition spokesman on housing and local government, who was reported as saying that Conservative local authorities should not press on in competition with Labour in building council houses. The Shelter report, although I do not accept the whole basis of its argument or its figures, shows conclusively that we still have a housing problem and are likely to have one for many years yet. Any local authority which cuts back its housing programme for purely ideological reasons, as would appear in many cases, is doing a great disservice to the people of its area and creating great problems for the future.
I should have liked some legislation mentioned in the Gracious Speech on the lines of the Brambell Report on the welfare of animals. I do not regard animals as more important than human beings, but there is a genuine horror among all sorts of people at some of the conditions in which our animals exist. I hope that the Government will during this year introduce legislation under that little section saying:Other measures will be laid before you.I hope that it will extend the codes of conduct and, if possible bring in the full recommendations of Brambell.
I think that we are in for a busy but interesting year and I am sure that, at the end of the year, a good deal of legislation will be on the Statute Book that will give great benefit to many people throughout the country.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Concannon.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.